Rose Hall sugar workers protest harsh working conditions
…demand owed severance
Over 100 sugar workers have downed tools and held a peaceful demonstration in front of the Rose Hall Estate in East Canje, Berbice (Region Six, East Berbice-Corentyne) in response to the harsh working conditions meted out to them for several months.
According to the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), the workers were transferred to the Albion Estate after the closure of the Rose Hall Estate back in 2017. From that time onwards, serious difficulties ensued in carry out their daily functions.
During the second day of the picketing exercise, the workers held placards highlighting their plight. They related that they were unable to earn on many days due to the insufficient punts to load the sugarcane. Consequently, it takes two days of work to achieve a daily earning.
Adding to the list of hardships, the distance travelled to reach the Albion Estate is greater, and workers would reach late to their work sites, impeding productivity. Usually, work would begin as early as 05:30h to capitalise on the favourable weather conditions, but the present situation results in them commencing at 08:30h, when the sun is scorching.
According to GAWU, the protestors claimed that the Guyana Sugar Corporation’s initial position was that they would be working in a section of the Rose Hall cultivation which was annexed to the Albion Estate. As the matter unfolded, they realised that this was not the case.
After the protest ensued earlier this week, GUYSUCO wrote the Union to inform that disciplinary action would be taken against those participating in the picketing exercise.
GAWU responded, insisting that the workers are subject to freedom of expression, and further opened the floor for dialogue between the mediating parties.
GAWU, in a response dated April 03, 2019, pointed out to the sugar company that workers, as Guyanese, have a right of expression. “The possibility of disciplinary action could be seen as impinging on that inalienable constitutional right…The workers, during today’s (Thursday) picketing exercise, echoed similar views, and called on GuySuCo officials to engage them in frank dialogue,” the Union stated.
The workers are also calling on GuySuCo to pay them their severance pay. They have already sought legal advice from Attorney-at-Law Anil Nandlall on the matter.
“At this time, the law is being examined to see what possibilities present themselves, and the Union will be accordingly guided”, the Union has said.
In December 2017, some 181 workers from the Rose Hall Estate lost their jobs when the estate closed its doors. Most of those who were transferred to the Albion and Blairmont Estates were from the East Bank of Berbice.
While many await the second half of their severance pay, many of the jobless workers are finding it difficult to secure employment. This, several workers have said, has forced them to utilise the first half of their severance to meet their expenses and obligations.
Last December, workers from the closed estates protested in front of Parliament Building during the budget debates in a bid to have their voices heard in regard to the owed severance payments.