Ex-workers must get severance with interest – court orders
Closure of Wales sugar factory
By Shemuel Fanfair
A determination in the matter involving the retrenched Wales, West Bank Demerara sugar workers was made at the High Court on Wednesday, with a ruling urging Government to pay dismissed employees their severance benefits with interest. This decision comes some two years after many of the workers refused to take up work at the Uitvlugt, West Coast Demerara Estate.
The workers were contending all along that under the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act (TESPA); they could not be compelled to travel 22 miles from their point of origin to Uitvlugt by the employer – the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo). Though it took over a year for the High Court to initially hear the matter, Justice Sandil Kissoon finally concluded the matter which came just hours after the workers protested outside Parliament Buildings on Wednesday.
After Wednesday’s ruling, lawyer for GuySuCo, Nikhil Ramkarran, told the media that the respondents are going to be paid their severance from December 31, 2016 with interest up to Wednesday, December 5, 2018. He noted that those who went to Uitvlugt will be paid severance up to Wednesday’s date as well, together with a month’s pay in lieu of notice.
Meantime, Attorney Pauline Chase, who represented the interest of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), agreed with Ramkarran and added that no overall figure was given by the court because interest “will have to be calculated”. Guyana Times however understands that it will be in the
hundreds of millions.
Chase outlined that 345 workers will benefit from the court’s determination, noting that if the workers do not receive the payments then action will be taken, though she trusts GuySuCo will honour the payments. Though it was initially 371 workers that were auguring for severance, Chase said it was found that some had to come off the list as some workers were not entitled; some died and others could no longer be found in the country.
In early November, the National Assembly gave approval for almost $2.5 billion to cater for the remaining severance to 4723 sugar workers and Agriculture Minister Noel Holder had told this newspaper earlier this week that the funds were available to pay the ex-sugar workers.
Earlier Wednesday, sugar workers assembled in front of Parliament, where they protested for higher salaries.
GAWU representative, Ricky Rambeer, was on the protest line and he demanded with great emphasis that the workers be paid what was due to them. At the same time, he criticised Government for not paying sugar workers since coming into office in 2015.
“The question is why they not giving sugar workers an increase – four years; they closed four estates. This Government victimising the sugar workers,” Rambeer noted.
This comment came one day after GAWU President Komal Chand declared that Government had not given sugar workers “one blind cent” in increases. “Sugar workers received harshest of treatment, not even the Burnham sugar workers didn’t receive this kind of treatment, they didn’t give the sugar worker any increase since APNU took office… It is baffling to understand why the workers are treated so shabbily, this is plain eye pass by this anti-working class Administration,” Chand had criticised.
During Wednesday’s protest, Opposition Members of Parliament, including Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, met with the protesters outside Parliament. During the boisterous protest, those gathered once again called for the removal of Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo and Agriculture Minister Noel Holder from their posts. But according to Minister of State Joseph Harmon, the protest was purely political in its nature as persons were aware the matter was in court.
The High Court had earlier ruled that all workers severed by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) must be paid with interest ranging from four to six per cent. Wales Estate was shut down in December 2016 while Enmore, Rose Hall and Skeldon were closed in 2017.