Over the last two years, the nation looked on as over 7000 sugar workers lost their jobs, ultimately making it one of the largest retrenchments in Guyana’s history. Despite this, their union – the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) – said it is has been unable to directly provide relief to the affected workers, but rather the union coordinated major relief efforts.“We have not directly provided relief to those workers from the shutter estates (Wales, Enmore, Skeldon, Albion); but we however managed through funds and organisations abroad, we have been able to provide some relief to workers and we have to bear in mind over the past years we were engaged on a lot of activities, marches, picketing exercises,” the Union’s President, Komal Chand noted.Chand made the comments at the Union’s end of year press conference on Friday. He told the media that GAWU did not let down its members, but rather, kept pushing so that the struggle remained alive and ultimately coming to an end when Government was ordered to pay the workers their severance packages along with interest. He noted that the financial position made the Union cognisant of the factGAWU President Komal Chandthat they needed to be aware of how they spent their limited finances.“One has to look that the Union did not end its relationship with the workers which from an individual point of view we are representing… we have to see the Union funds which is affected by the smaller membership and we have to consider how wisely we have spent it and we have to keep the struggle alive. We were able to provide food stuff, mainly food stuff (to the workers),” Chand stated.He said when the Government decided to close the Wales Estate on the West Bank of Demerara in 2016, and closely followed up by shutting down the Enmore Estate, on the East Coast of Demerara and Skeldon and Rose Hall estates in Berbice in 2017, the Union suffered. The shutting down of several sugar estates saw a significant decline in the dues collected by GAWU and according to Chand, it limited their abilities to assist those affected.Earlier this year, outspoken economist and former presidential advisor Ramon Gaskin said Chand should be fired since he did not adequately represent the interest of the retrenched sugar workers. Gaskin said he believes Chand made a huge blunder when Chand and his team met with President David Granger on January 19, and agreed to accept a decision to pay some of the sugar workers their full severance, while others have to wait.AssistanceOn Friday, Chand indicated that the Union has been doing everything possible to assist the retrenched sugar workers, while alluding to the three major court cases that resulted in Wales Estate cane cutters getting their severance along with interest and the Caribbean Court of Justice Appeal to the closure of the estates. He, however, did not disclose how much money was expended on the court proceedings noting that “the lawyers might not want that disclosed.”In a prepared statement, GAWU said the sugar workers continue to be burdened by high cost of living and not receiving a raise in their wages and salaries for over four years.“In the period since workers’ pay rates were adjusted, we must point out, according to the Bureau of Statistics, the cost of food, one of the most significant expenditure of workers, has risen by 12.4 per cent. The GAWU also wishes to point out that in intervening period, the cost of medical and personal care has risen by 8.5 per cent. We recognise from the Corporation’s financial statements between 2014 and 2017, average pay per worker in the sugar industry has declined on average by $284,000. Of course when considering the wages earned by workers represented by GAWU, taking into account the seasonality of their jobs, the loss of benefits and their earnings vis-à-vis other categories of workers in the Corporation, it’s hard not to conclude that the field and factory workers take home pay have recorded even further declines,” GAWU said.Chand explained that the lack of increases also affects the purse of the Union since it means no increase in their revenues.“We are severely affected at the less contribution we are getting from the sugar workers. Nevertheless, we also have to recognise their plight and we recognise their high cost of living for those who are paying now we cannot increase their dues unless they have some increases in their wages and salaries,” Chand explained.