Sugar workers in Guyana deserve higher wages. They must have a livable wage to stay in the industry. You can’t pay starvation wage and expect the sugar or any state enterprise to turn around. Workers will not give their full ability to produce unless their salary is fair and equivalent to their labor. One must not see salary in a state-owned entity from a totally capitalist eye but as a development strategy of the industry. If the salary is below that of other similar jobs, workers will leave and accept other jobs. Right now, there is a shortage of labor. GuySuco is struggling to retain workers with a turnout of just 50%. Unless, there is a livable wage, more workers will leave for higher income elsewhere. I remember the slogan during the 1980s when workers were fighting Burnham for a livable wage. “It is better to stay home and starve rather than to work and starve”. That slogan is apt for sugar workers today. They are the lowest paid in all industries, a starvation age that averages some $70K monthly, about the same amount the lowest paid government workers (like cleaners) earn. Sugar workers toil under hot sun or rain utilizing dangerous tools at great risk of injury; they are not cleaning government office or school buildings protected from the elements. And when factory not grinding, workers get a small stipend that can’t buy food for the week. Other state workers are guaranteed a minimum income that qualifies them for NIS; not all sugar workers receive that benefit.
It is noted that while cost of living has been steadily increasing from 2015, when other workers were getting hot increases, sugar workers were denied increases during the five years under the coalition. So their real wages declined considerably as income for others went up and as inflation ballooned out of control. The increase they received since August 2020 has not made up for the loss of real income from 2015. There must be a differential make up for what they didn’t get during the five years of coalition governance – at least 25% that was given to others.
Sugar workers should be given an increase to bring them in line of what is a half way decent wage that can purchase monthly food for a family of four.
How does one justify increased wages when GuySuco is losing billions? In the short run, it would increase cost of production which can be mitigated by reducing management costs. In the long run, productivity will increase gradually narrowing the gap between operational costs and revenues. To increase pay for field workers, including cane cutters, management expenses should be trimmed. Another option is for sugar workers to be offered land (say ten acres) to grow cane which is then sold to the factories similar to private cane farming, a pattern somewhat akin to rice production by small rice growers who sell their paddy to the millers. Estate productivity always lagged behind private cane farmers. Private cane farming was very profitable when factories were in operation; the farmers and the factories earned a lot of money when both were functional efficiently.
Investment in GuySuco is worth it. To allow it to go under will cause severe social dislocation costing government more money to address ills. Even if GuySuco is treated as a ward of government with huge investment, what is wrong with it? Isn’t government also funding development cost of Exxon and other oil companies as well as housing, utilities, infrastructure, and several other industries? Why pick on GuySuco?