NFU has warned government to consult with it on its proposed restructure of the sugar industry or “face the consequences of its intransigence”.
In a letter to the Minister for Agriculture, Sugar & Land Resettlement Hon Jonetani K Galuinadi last week, NFU general secretary Mahendra Chauhdry made it very clear that its position on the industry Master Award was “non negotiable”.
Government is expected to table a Bill in parliament in April next year to restructure the sugar industry which will include the scrapping of the Sugar Cane Growers Council, the Sugar Commission of Fiji and the Sugar Industry Tribunal. The Bill had also not been discussed by the Parliamentary Sugar Select Committee. It will also scrap the sugar master award and replace it with individual contracts with cane growers.
National Farmers Union rejects the sugar industry restructure Bill which aims to abolish the existing Sugar Industry Act without any consultation with the NFU as the most representative cane farmers’ organisation. For the past two years NFU has consistently voiced its total opposition to the proposed industry restructure as an FSC-drawn up rescue package which aims at bailing out the ailing corporation at the expense of cane farmers.
The proposals have not been discussed with industry stakeholders.
The letter states as follows:
“Your urgent attention is drawn to a draft sugar industry restructure Bill which has been circulated by the Prime Minister’s office to certain stakeholders in the industry, with a request for their comments by November 20, 2003. The Bill seeks to repeal the Sugar Industry Act and the Fiji Sugar Corporation Limited Act.
Members of the NFU have unanimously rejected government’s proposal to repeal the Sugar Industry Act and the Master Award in particular. Farmers will not agree to a reduction in their share of the sugar proceeds which is almost a certain outcome should the Master Award be repealed.
We have said all along that the ‘sick man’ in the industry is the FSC which should receive proper attention to return it to profitability. In the past six years FSC has made losses every year except for 1999. Its accumulated losses now stand near $60 million and it is expected to register another substantial loss this year.
It is abundantly clear from government’s proposals and its declared intentions that it wants to ensure the industry’s sustainability at the expense of the cane farmers. But, we wish to make it clear that the industry and FSC will not be permitted to ride on cane farmers’ backs.
Indeed government’s entire attitude in this matter has been one of unilateralism and arrogance. NFU wishes to make it clear that government must come down from its high horse and negotiate in good faith with the cane farmers or face the consequences of its intransigence.
May I add that our position on the retention of the Sugar Industry Master Award is non negotiable.”