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The Sugar Worker, September 2005. News from the Sugar Sector

Posted to the IUF website 03-Oct-2005

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The Sugar Worker
Information and Analysis for Unions in the Sugar Sector
Volume VII, Number 9
September 2005


Guyana: Two More Workers Disappeared from Cane Fields

On Saturday 24 September, two sugar workers vanished from their worksites in the backlands of Lusignan, East Coast Demerara. Missing are Hardat (53, one name only) of Non Pariel and Sookram Dhanai (45) of Annandale, villages of East Coast Demerara. Both men had left for work the afternoon before at 2:00 pm to work their night shift as watchmen. By 6:30 am on Saturday morning, they had failed to return home. It was reported that they were last seen at about 4:00 am after a routine security check was conducted. They have been guarding some 100 cane punts and six water punts. (Punts are small barges used to transport cane through the canal system used in Guyana.) The workers are members of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU).

A search in the backlands found some of their personal belongings: their lunch bags, bicycles and mosquito nets. Police and army personnel combed a three-mile area south of the Railway Embankment, between the villages of Buxton and Lusignan on the East Coast of Demerara. The workers were not found.
Hardat is a father of two (of 29 and 16 years) while Sookram Dhanai has three children of 12, 9 and 5. On 21 May, Sampersaud Taranauth and Maikram Sawh also vanished while cleaning drains in the Vigilance backlands in East Coast Demerara.

The families of the missing workers have been thrown into despair and also anger at the security arrangements provided by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), a sentiment shared by the workers and population. In a press statement, GAWU said that "it is questionable whether the Guyana Sugar Corporation has enforced adequate measures to make its workplace safe," mentioning that after the disappearance of two workers last May, the corporation had offered to clear the bush in the area, which is used as a hide out by criminals, but nothing much had been done in that respect. GuySuCo said that, although some work has been done, the larger part of clearing lands is responsibility of the government.

Death at LBI Factory
On Wednesday 28 September, Noor Khan, an engineer manager at La Bonne Intention (LBI), was killed after being trapped and crushed in the bagasse carrier. GuySuCo issued a statement saying that Khan and two maintenance staff were overseeing repairs to the carrier, when this was activated. The statement gave no explanation of how the carrier got started. The other two employees were able to jump to safety, but Khan fell on the carrier and was crushed between a metal wiper and the carrier paddles. He was taken to the St Joseph Mercy Hospital but pronounced dead on arrival. Noor Khan had worked for more than 25 years in the sugar industry, starting in the spinning of machines at the Blairmont Estate. He worked as a charge-hand, a foreman, a maintenance supervisor, a shift manager, and was recently promoted to engineer manager.

IUF, GAWU and NAACIE Symposium on Agriculture
On 28 September, the IUF-affiliated unions in the sugar industry, GAWU and NAACIE, organised a symposium on agriculture and the development of Guyana, with participation of some 40 union leaders and speakers from different institutions and organisations concerned with agriculture, in particular cane and sugar. The unions and the IUF organised the symposium from the perspective of decent work, decent jobs. Opening the session with a breakfast address, Dr Nanda Goupal, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Public Services spoke on Social Dialogue and its relevance in building democracy. Satyadeow Sawh, Guyana's Minister of Agriculture presented some basic policies and instruments for agricultural development, and Dr Patsy Francis, dean of the faculty of Agriculture and Forestry of the University of Guyana, gave an overview of the potential of a diversified agriculture to support development.

Cane growing and sugar manufacturing dominate agriculture in Guyana, and Ronald Ali, chairman of GuySuCo presented the state of development of the corporation's strategic plan, which attempts to improve productivity, increase production and reduce costs, in particular in face of the challenges to the preferential trade agreements with the European Union. The latter was the topic presented by Dr Ian McDonald, chief executive officer of the Sugar Association of the Caribbean, who emphasised the legal basis for the EU/ ACP trade arrangement and the need for lobbying and demonstrating against the proposed cut in sugar prices by the EU. Sam Lawrence, advisor to Caricom's Regional Transformation Programme for Agriculture, touched the regional perspective, describing some of the legal and organisational structures created to promote agriculture in the context of food security and region's increasing food imports.

Ann Herbert, agriculture specialist of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva, gave an overview of the decent job framework in which the ILO implements its work: social dialogue, social protection, workers rights and employment opportunities. Closing the symposium, Seepaul Narine, general secretary of GAWU, reviewed the trade union work in the sugar industry, underlining the commitment of workers to its survival, and the struggle of the unions to make the industry a place where decent jobs are available to workers. (Copies of several of the presentations will be available on the IUF Sugar Workers' Network Website.)

After the symposium, the IUF met with delegates of GAWU and NAACIE to exchange ideas on the work program, and later the IUF sugar coordinator travelled to Berbice to observe in detail the cutting and loading of cane.

Brazil: Technology Makes B�ias-frias Work Harder

They have to work harder and harder to keep their jobs and not to be devoured by technology. They are the b�ia-frias in the sugar cane sector of Ribeir�o Preto (SP). They are estimated in 40,000 workers, who coexist with annual increases of areas under cane that benefit employers and with increasing mechanization. (B�ia-frias means literally "cold meal", in part because workers eat cold lunches in the fields.)

This situation is subject of an inquiry by the Organization of United Nations (ONU) and the Pastoral of Migrants de Guariba (SP), an organisation linked to the Catholic Church. The two organizations will investigate if the deaths of nine b�ias-frias occurred since 2004 in the cane fields of Ribeir�o Preto have been caused by too much physical efforts demanded from the cane cutters. In the decade of 1990, the region produced 65 million tonnes of cane, according to the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo. Last harvest, the paper said, production was about 90 million. The b�ias-frias increased the average amount of cane cut from 8 tonnes per day in the 1980s to 12 tonnes. A study by the University of Sao Paulo (USP) said that to cut 10 tonnes of cane per day, a worker needs to execute 9,700 blows with a pod�o - a type of machete used for cutting cane. For each tonne of cane a cutter receives 2.20 Brazilian reais (almost USD 1.00). An "efficient" cutter may earn about 600 reais per month (USD 269.00), said the Folha de Sao Paulo.

According to members of the Permanent Committee of Nutrition of the ONU, specialists in the field, and the Pastoral of Migrants de Guariba, excess work may have caused the death of the nine b�ia-frias. The most recent death that might be related to workers' increasing efforts was that of Natalino de Gomes Sales (51), which occurred in Batatais said the Pastoral of Migrants in early September. Two other cane cutters died in June and July in Guariba and Prad�polis. They were 26 and 24 years old, respectively, and came from Maranh�o. In the three cases, the cause of death reported was respiratory shock. But, a sociologist from the Unesp (Universidade Estadual Paulista) in Araraquara said "the death certificate only shows the cause of the death, but not what it took it to have the problem that killed the workers. The b�ias-frias feel pressured to work harder and harder and eat poor food. The cause of the problem is the intensity of the exploitation. They need to work more and more to try and make ends meet."

In October, it was reported, an ONU mission will be in the region to examine the working conditions of the b�ias-frias, the sanitary conditions of their food, the amount of food ingested, and the workers' possible exposure to agro-toxics. (Based on an article by Marcelo Toledo, Folha de Sao Paulo, 18 September 2005.)

IUF Caribbean: St Kitts: Sugar for Exports is Finished, Would Cane Growing Continue?
From 3 to 10 September, the IUF global sugar coordinator visited the sugar sector in St Kitts to learn about the program of transition-out-of-sugar under implementation. The visit allowed the IUF to meet with representatives of the local organisations involved in the transition program such as the Transition Management Office, the Ministries of Trade, of Agriculture, and of Social Development, the Labour Department, and with the St Kitts Sugar Manufacturing Company. Also, a meeting between the IUF and the St Kitts-Nevis Trades and Labour Union (SKNTLU), which represents sugar workers, was held to discuss future joint work.

The St Kitts-Nevis government decided to end production of sugar for export on 30 July, when the 2005 harvest ended. A visit to St Kitts shows how important cane growing would continue to be in the near future for the stability of this little island of just 261 square kilometres and some 40,000 inhabitants.

There are several projects being explored by the Transition Management Office, among them, a feasibility study for a co-generation plant, and the production of ethanol, special sugars and rum. The work of the Transition Management Office is to propose alternative options to producing sugar for exports. The intention is to retain some 6,000 acres under cane cultivation (from a current total of 7,500 acres). As well, there are estimates that about 300 workers would be rehired in the cultivation of cane. The projects, however, are still in their very initial stages.

In a 6-hour tour of the island on 8 September, the IUF global sugar coordinator had the chance for a good first-hand impression of what cane (and sugar) meant and, quite probably, will continue meaning for the people of St Kitts. From several viewpoints, including environmental (cane retains the very lose top soil), social (local communities built on cane growing), economic (what crops have the potential to replace cane) and tourism (cane lands are indeed a bonus to hotels and scenery) considerations, Kittitians face the question what to do next. Whether the new projects can be completed in time to make possible a real transition from production of sugar for exports to alternative uses of cane is a question to which St Kitts lose chances of answering on the affirmative with everyday that passes. (For this writer was also a surprise that the first thing saw on landing in Basseterre were acres of cane lands; a view repeated once and again along the coastal route that goes around the island: cane growing tall� and unattended.)

As part of the transition out-of-sugar, ex-sugar workers received the first instalment of the severance payments on 15 September. A total of 19.8 million East Caribbean dollars (USD 7.44 million) were distributed to over 1,000 ex-sugar workers, complying with the Protection of Employment Act of 1986 that provides a maximum of 52 weeks severance payment. This payment has to be effective within 13 weeks after workers are severed from their jobs. However, according to an arrangement negotiated by the SKNTLU and the St Kitts Sugar Manufacturing Company (SSMC), the severance payments would be based on the Severance Agreement of 1961 between the union and the then Sugar Producers Association, which allows payments for up to 104 weeks. Those workers who qualify for these payments would receive the second instalment in December, and the third and final in March 2006. Government officials also said that workers with 35 years or more of service would receive an additional two weeks for every year after 35. They added that payments are expected to total 44 million East Caribbean dollars (USD 16.5 million).

Trinidad: Shortage of Refined Sugar

In one more problem related to the on-going saga of the sugar (and cane) sector in Trinidad, candy makers and soft drink bottlers, among sugar industrial users, stopped production in early September, sending some 1,000 workers home. The immediate cause was a shortage of refined sugar in the domestic market. Among the industrial users were the local bottlers of Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola, and also Nestle, National Canners, SM Jaleel and Company, and KC Confectionary. According to local papers, the Sugar Manufacturing Company Ltd. (SMCL), which replaced Caroni (1975) Ltd. blamed the shortfall in the sugar production in Guyana and Belize, from where it sources raw sugar for refining in Trinidad, as the reason for the sugar shortage. Trinidad's own decreasing volume of sugar is shipped to the European Union. While the Guyanese Sugar Corp. (GuySuCo) is going through difficulties in the 2005 harvest, because of the flooding of last January and other agricultural problems, GuySuCo rejected the charges saying that it had in due course notified the SMCL of the production shortfall, and twice offered to help sourcing raw supplies from other origins. The SMCL, said GuySuCo, refused the offers and opted to import refined sugar. A second factor appeared in the scene: SMCL officials told the press that sugar destined for Trinidad had been diverted to other destinations, but gave no further information to support the statement.

For Trinidadian industrial users, the refined sugar shortage should be a warning. Until now, the discussion of the future of cane growing and sugar manufacturing in the island has been confined to ex-sugar workers, cane farmers and government agencies - including the SMCL. By the end Trinidad's 2005 harvest last June, it was well known that the SMCL had achieved only about 34,000 tonnes of sugar. Domestic requirements are close to 75,000 tonnes. With some 15,000 tonnes to be delivered to the EU, and the already known shortfall in the Guyanese production, the government agency in charge of the sugar business in the country (i.e. the SMCL) should have taken all the necessary steps to ensure the continuing supplies. Notwithstanding these problems, it would seem that industrial users of sugar still trusted on a smooth running of the SMCL, the sole importer of sugar, sole processor of cane and refiner of raws.

As a result of the shortage, industrial users, in particular candy markers, defaulted in their overseas deliveries, and have now to make amends for the future. In the meantime, government authorised industrial users to import their own refined sugar, up to 10,000 tonnes in the period 1 September to 31 December.

The All Trinidad Sugar and General Workers Trade Union (ATSGWTU) called for the immediate resignations of the Minister of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources, Jarrette Narine and the Board of Directors of the Sugar Manufacturing Company Ltd. The union is the bargaining agent in some of the companies that sent their workers home because of the sugar shortage. The All Trinidad also represented thousands of sugar workers who lost their jobs when Caroni was dismantled. The union said that the restructuring of the sugar industry has "failed miserably."

Cane Farmers Demand Compensation to Leave Sector
Organisations representing independent cane farmers have requested a support program to leave the sector, equivalent to three crops in the absence of a market, and an increase from 180 to 200 Trinidadian dollars in the tonne of cane (USD 28.8/tonne to USD 32.00/tonne). Independent farmers control some 40,000 acres of cane lands.

The proposal was voiced at a meeting on "A way forward for the Sugar Industry in Trinidad and Tobago," organised by the Sugarcane Industry team, an agency set up to support the farmers after the dismantling of Caroni (1975) Ltd. The farmers, said the local newspaper Express, were also offered land from the 45,000 acres of arable land still owned by Caroni (managed by the Estate Development Management Company), but showed little interest in the offer.

On the other hand, the SugarCane Industry Team underlined the prospects of producing ethanol for exports to the US under the duty-free access through the Caribbean Basin Initiative. In fact, on 12 September, a USD 70 million-ethanol plant was opened in Point Fortin. The plant is owned by the Trinidad Bulk Traders Ltd (TBTL), which is part of the Angostura Group of companies. The plant has an initial production capacity of 50 million gallons, possible to be expanded to 100 million in the near future. The plant would process Brazilian feedstock into ethanol. The managing director of the company said that, in the future, (domestically-grown) sugar cane would be considered for ethanol production only "if it is economical". A government official attending the opening of the plant said that the plant would provide new investments in port facilities, and suggested it was a "good opportunity" for the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union (OWTU) to get into the privatisation of the port facilities.

Mexico: Growers Seized Mills

Mills all over Mexico were returning to normal operations by 29 September, after thousands of growers took them to protest the federal government decision to file a constitutional appeal against the recently passed law of sustainable development on the sugar cane.

The government has filed a constitutional appeal against 13 articles of the new cane law, which mostly relate to the fixing of prices, mechanisms to resolve disputes, and the establishing of producer associations. For instance, among the articles under appeal is the one that stipulates that Sagarpa, the agriculture secretariat, in coordination with local and federal governments would propose to the secretary of economy the basic elements to fix maximum prices for sugar. Another article is one that says that the national committee for the sustainable development of the sugar cane would estimate the sugar and sweetener balances to assist in the elaboration of public policies related to costs, prices, subsidies, interest rates and credit policies, among other matters. Also under appeal is the proposed contract between growers and millers to regulate the growing, harvesting and processing of cane in a standard manner in all the country, as well as the conflict resolution procedures and committees to be established. These matters were at the core of the political agreement that the government, the political opposition parties and cane growers reached last August.

On 30 September, the agriculture secretariat (Sagarpa) and cane growers agreed to open a dialogue in order to determine the necessary steps to implement the new cane law, in a climate of industrial peace. The 2005/06 harvest would start in November.

United States: Louisiana Sugar Badly Affected by Katrina and Rita

Suffering the impact of two extremely destructive hurricanes in one month, the Louisiana cane and sugar-refining sector has been badly affected. The Chalmette refinery, owned by the American Sugar Refining Inc., would remain closed for an indefinite period. The St Bernard's Parish in Louisiana, where the refinery is located, was one of the areas worst hit by Katrina and flooded again by Rita. The refinery's building infrastructure and equipment were severely damaged, and by the end of September the area lacks of electricity, water and sewage services, and is still evacuated. The Chalmette refinery processes the greater portion of the Louisiana crop, in addition to some of the raw sugar produced in neighbouring Texas.

The second refinery in Louisiana is located in Gramercy and owned by Imperial Sugar. Gramercy was not seriously affected by either Katrina or Rita, but it has not enough capacity to process all the Louisiana raw sugar production.

Trade sources said that if Chalmette fails to reopen this season, raw sugar producers would be in a major problem to find refining capacity elsewhere where to ship their sugar. This would mean increasing costs because of storage and transportation. The Texas sugar crop was scheduled to start in the first week of October.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said that initial estimates in cane growing were about USD 50 million in Louisiana, but it added that the extent of the losses would be known only as the Louisiana harvest progresses.

Company News

South Africa: Illovo Sugar Profits to Triple

For the six months ending in September 2005, Illovo Sugar said that the headline earnings per share would be trice as much as in the same period last year. The company said that this is result of a combination of factors including the improved international sugar prices, increased sugar production, improved domestic sales and the restructuring of the South African business, which saw the sale of the Umfolozi factory. Headline earnings per share exclude non-trading, capital and extraordinary items. Illovo Sugar operates in South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Mozambique.