– orders consultations with workers’, unions first
BY EDWARD LAYNE
The High Court on Friday issued an interim injunction, barring the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) from dismissing or redeploying hundreds of sugar workers attached to the Wales Sugar Estate, without first consulting with their unions, Guyana Agriculture and General Workers Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE).
The court action, brought by GAWU and NAACIE was heard by Justice William Ramlall and Madam Justice Diana Insanally was seen by this publication.
The judges granted an interim injunction, restraining GuySuCo from proceeding to implement their decision “to sever the employment of workers of the Wales Estate, Wales, West Bank Demerara, and rendering them redundant unless and until they hold consultation with the Applicants/Plaintiffs (unions and GuySuCo) in accordance with the letter and spirit of section 12 of the Termination of the Employment and Severance Pay Act Cap. 99:08, until the hearing and determination of a Summons returnable in Chambers”
The action was brought after GuySuCo began discussions with individual employees of the Wales Estate to negotiate severance packages, without informing or involving the unions.
The date was January 20, 2016, at a meeting between GuySuCo and the unions, where the corporation revealed its intentions to close the operations at Wales Estate.
The unions, in the court documents seen by this publication, accused GuySuCo of not keeping its promises regarding the future of workers of Wales Estate.
It was stated that the unions were promised that in due course, they will be inform of the new venture that will be established at the Wales Estate, Wales, and the names of the workers who will be re-deployed to Uitvlugt Estate, West Coast Demerara; and those who will be rendered redundant.
It stated that while GAWU was informed on March, 22, 2016, of the employees who have opted for redundancy, and NAACIE is still to be so advised.
“The course of conduct embarked upon by the Respondent as expressed in the letter referred to in paragraph six above is in flagrant violation and contravention of section 12 (3) (b) of the Termination of the Employment and Severance Pay Act Cap. 99:08 which mandates the Respondent to consult with the Applicants before any such or similar decision can be lawfully made,” the unions stated.
They noted that unless restrained by the Court, the corporation will continue to treat with the workers without any consultation whatsoever with their trade unions.
“…when the trade unions are excluded from this process, the workers are not receiving the best available option, terms and conditions,” the unions argued.
They reminded that the right of trade unions to participate in and be part of negotiations involving employee and employer is “a sacred and sacrosanct right” fought for and won by workers after centuries of struggle.
“We verily believe that the Respondent is deliberately excluding us from negotiations so that they can exploit and manipulate the workers,” the unions pointed out.
GAWU and NAACIE are also seeking damages in excess of $1 million for breach of statutory duty owing under the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act, Cap. 99:08, Laws of Guyana.
The unions are represented by Attorneys Mohabir Anil Nandlall, Euclin Gomes, Sase Gunraj, Manoj Narayan and Sasha Mahadeo.
One legal luminary explained that the corporation is legally bound to hold all negotiations relating to workers and their welfare, with their recognised unions, in this case GAWU and NAACIE.
It was explained that negotiations should not start with severance pay, but rather, examine all the possible options in the best interest of workers and to agree on which option best suits the interest of the affected workers.
If it is agreed that severance is the best option then negotiations on the severance package, inclusive of its calculations will commence and must be done between GuySuCo and the two unions, the legal expert explained.
The closure of the estate by yearend will affect some 1700 workers directly and thousands of persons in the Wales and surrounding communities indirectly.