– claims constitutional rights being violated; employees not unionisedOne month after the Special Purpose Unit (SPU), which falls under the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), first announced that some 100 cane harvesters were re-hired to work in the fields at the Rose Hall Estate, allegations of exploitation of employees are being levelled against the State body.The accusations were detailed by People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Parliamentarian and former Attorney General (AG) Anil Nandlall, who, on Thursday, opined that workers are operating under unconstitutional arrangements.Responding to an advertisement by NICIL/SPU inviting expressions of interest for the “contracting of farmers for planting, crop husbandry, and harvesting” at theRose Hall EstateSkeldon, Rose Hall and Enmore estates, Nandall claimed this arrangement makes plain that the SPU wants “no dealings with any trade union”. He observed that this is against constitution provisions in Article 147 of the document.“There is an emphatic insistence that these workers must not be part of, or belong to, any trade union. This is clearly unconstitutional and in violation of the protection accorded to workers by Article 147 of the Constitution, which guarantees protection of freedom of assembly and association. This Article provides that “no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his or her freedom of assembly, association…and in particular, to form or belong to political parties, trade unions or other associations for the protection of his or her interests,” he stressed in a lengthy statement.He pointed out that the SPU posited that workers who are to be employed must be employed by the private cane farmers, who must be responsible for their NIS and GRA payments, health benefits, insurance, transportation to and from work, and every other amenity. This, he reasoned, suggests that the SPU and the closed estates’ predecessor, the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), “intend to further trample upon trade unionism and the rights and interests of workers to be represented by a trade union of their choice. “This is certainly a retrograde step in industrial and labour relations in our country. The right of workers to be represented by a union of their choice is a right that was struggled for and won after decades of activism by thousands. The sugar workers in particular, led by Dr Cheddi Jagan, held some of the longest strikes in the English-speaking Caribbean before their union, GAWU, was allowed to represent them,” the senior PPP member expressed.“All of these tremendous advances are now being eroded by what I can only describe as another act of authoritarianism reminiscent of the dark days of the [Forbes] Burnham dictatorship,” he stressed, referencing the period when the late leader reigned from 1964 to his death in 1985 under the People’s National Congress (PNC) Government.Nandlall also stressed that under the PPP/C rule, the Guyana Trades Union Recognition Act was enacted, facilitating workers’ representation by a union of their choice. He noted that that right forms part of International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions to which Guyana is a signatory.He highlighted that the incentive schemes under which workers benefited, such as the Annual Production Incentive (API), will [not] be available, because no cane farmer will have the financial capacity to finance them.“The whole scheme is exploitative, is cruel and degrading to the workers. GuySuco and the SPU know the workers are vulnerable and desperate; they know the workers and their families are on the bread line; they know the workers are battling for their very survival, so they unleashed this vicious scheme to exploit them and deny them their dignity and human rights. It is a sad human rights tragedy,” he noted.In December 2017, some 4000 workers from Skeldon, Enmore and Rose Hall Sugar estates were placed on the breadline after Government, through GuySuCo, opted to downsize the industry.Additionally, in another cost-cutting move, the Wales Estate was shuttered in December 2016, displacing more than 1000 workers at that entity.