The Guyana Sugar Corporation’s recent declaration that some 374 sugar workers attached to the now closed Wales Sugar Estate must be transferred to the Uitvlugt Estate was strongly condemned by their union, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU).
GAWU President Komal Chand, in an interview with Guyana Times on Tuesday,
responded to GuySuCo’s clarification that for the requisite categories, it was under no legal obligation to pay the workers severance. The GAWU President outlined that workers would not accept such a move.
“All hell will break loose across Guyana if the employer has to decide about their entitlement, that is why workers over the years have fought for their rights with trade unions,” Chand posited.
Regarding the East Demerara Estate no longer offering cane planting work to employees, Chand noted that this meant that workers’ tasks were made redundant and they should be paid severance packages.
GuySuCo on Monday noted that the Wales sugar workers would remain on the Wales payroll and would be given a disturbance allowance to travel to Uitvlugt, adding that this situation was not peculiar under the Collective Labour Agreement (CLA). The Sugar Corporation added that the Wales workers could become entitled to severance if their contracts were ended in keeping with sections 12 and 21 (1) of the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act (TESPA).
Chand, however, related that the law was clear, adding that the workers were entitled to their severance. He further explained that the CLA in 1976 did not foresee the closure of estates.
It was on Friday that GuySuCo Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Errol Hanoman told another section of the media that 389 workers had opted for severance last year when the closure was announced. He revealed that 428 staffers remained with the Sugar Corporation, and 374 of them would be transferred to Uitvlugt while the others would remain as support staff.
GuySuCo further stressed that cane harvesters and cane transport operators could still be transferred, noting that the offer was still open.
Meanwhile, on Monday, GAWU met with more than 40 workers attached to the East Demerara Estate (Enmore/LBI), who explained that the entity’s management had disclosed that the Estate would no longer offer cane planting work. As such, many workers called for severance pay as their traditional tasks were no longer required.
Guyana Times had been told that as per normal, in each plot, 20 per cent new canes were planted and the remainder was left for old canes to grow back. However, as the cane planting has ended there, GAWU suggested that GuySuCo was gearing up to close down operations at the East Demerara Estate.
“The decision by the Corporation to end cane planting is testimony that the Estate is being geared for closure. Interestingly, so far, no official announcement to that end has been made either by the Government or by the GuySuCo, yet the Corporation is implementing steps indicating the Estate’s closure,” GAWU said on Monday.
Workers attached to the defunct Wales Estate had gathered outside the factory gates on Monday, to reiterate calls for outstanding severance packages. On Friday, workers bolted from a meeting with several Government Ministers when Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan disclosed that GuySuCo could not afford to pay workers severance benefits.
The Wales workers have been protesting over the past few months and many have noted the difficulties they were encountering with finding consistent employment.
Government closed Wales Estate as a result of the billions of dollars it accrued in losses over the years. It was at high-level sugar consultations last year with GuySuCo, the Union and the Opposition that Government disclosed that only three estates would be kept open.