…unable to pay sugar workers weekly wages
BY Shemuel Fanfair
As the financial challenges of the cash-strapped Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) abound, thousands of workers across the sugar belt were startled to discover that their salaries were not paid for the week ending September 14, 2018.
Well-placed sources told Guyana Times that the entity simply ran out of money to meet its financial obligations; so much so that workers who were dependent on their Friday pay were left wondering when they will be able to provide for their families. It was explained that situation was similar for sugar workers across the Berbice Estates of Albion and Blairmont and at Uitvlugt which is the lone West Demerara Estate, since Wales ended operations nearly two years ago.
“Some people when they turn up at the bank for salaries; they didn’t get pay… some people live from pay cheque to pay cheque,” a senior official in Berbice confirmed on Saturday.
Information coming out of Uitvlugt suggested that workers there encountered similar circumstances as they expected their salaries to be paid on time.
“No sugar worker get paid; everybody depending on it because they get pay on a weekly basis. We don’t know until further notice,” an Uitvlugt official disclosed.
On Saturday, Guyana Times made several attempts to get official word from GuySuCo Finance Director, Paul Bhim, on when workers will be paid their salaries but all telephone calls to him went unanswered. However, another senior GuySuCo official claimed that the workers could be paid later in the new week.
It is understood that sugar workers have been receiving their salaries at commercial banks rather than at pay offices to which they were accustomed in the past. GuySuCo effected the change in June 2018 but some workers raised concerns over inconvenience and fears of being robbed.
GuySuCo has been undertaking several austerity measures to alleviate its cash-strapped status. After the closure of Wales in December 2016, the Rose Hall Estate in Berbice and the East Demerara (Enmore) Estate shuttered as official operations at those two entities ended by December 2017. These left thousands of workers jobless. The numbers revealed that 1851 workers were terminated from Skeldon while Rose Hall Estate accounted for 1181 workers being severed. There were also 1480 from the East Demerara Sugar Estate losing employment under the cost-cutting decisions.
However, a small percentage of these workers were rehired under the Special Purposes Unit (SPU) as that entity kept the estates running in a bid to secure private investors. The SPU is a unit of the Finance Ministry that was crafted to oversee and manage the divestment of the nation’s “closed” Estates.
While these cost-saving initiatives were viewed as necessary by Government from a fiscal perspective; the parliamentary Opposition in addition to other stakeholders and observers strongly condemned the move, having posited that the Administration should have first assessed the impact of closures.
Patientia is a community in the Wales environs that continues to be affected by the Estate’s closure. Some of the dismissed sugar workers at that estate continue to survive without their severance payments as they refused to take up work at the Uitvlugt Estate, which is some 22 miles from their original place of employment. Meanwhile, many former sugar workers attached to the Skeldon, East Demerara and Rose Hall estates were only paid half of their half-year severance payments.
Government had acquired $1.931 billion in an effort to provide 50 per cent of severance packages to the fired workers. President David Granger speaking in Berbice on Wednesday said his Administration has been forced to pump billions of Guyana dollars to bail out the sugar industry and has to expend more to pay the workers in full. Some $609 million was paid out to Skeldon workers while $705 million was paid to Rose Hall workers, while $815 million was paid to East Demerara workers and $150 million to the Wales workers.