Severance to be paid according to workers’ unique cases – Harmon

Dismissed sugar workers

…not $1 million each, as reported by State media

Dismissed sugar workers will receive severance payments in accordance with the labour laws, State Minister Joseph Harmon has said. That means it would be based on the wages and salaries they had been receiving, as well as the years of service they have given to the corporation.
Minister Harmon has dismissed reports carried in the state media — particularly the state newspaper Guyana Chronicle — that the displaced sugar workers who are entitled to severance pay are likely to receive about $1 million each.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all; there’s a global sum which we’ve been given, and severance is a calculation which you make based on what the worker was enjoying as salaries or wages. So it’s not like, ‘Everybody, come collect a million dollars!’ and you move on… (For) every individual, there is a calculation that’s made based on his or her circumstances. So no $1 million package is going to be handed out to every single person; it is based on your salary at the time you were severed,” Harmon told reporters at this week’s post-Cabinet press briefing on Friday.
Breaching of labour laws
On Wednesday last, President David Granger announced that some $2 billion have been earmarked to pay dismissed sugar workers 50 per cent of their severance by the end of this month, while the remaining monies will be paid off in the second half of the year.
However, Government has come in for much criticism over the move, with stakeholders — including the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) — saying this move is a flagrant breach of the labour laws.
According to the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act, redundant workers are to be paid severance upon termination of their employment. The law states, “On termination of his employment, an employee who has completed one year or more years of continuous employment with an employer shall be entitled to be paid by such employer a severance or redundancy allowance…”
However, Harmon noted that while funds were budgeted for severance payments, additional monies had to be added to that amount.
“There was a sum of over $500 million in the sum allocated to GuySuCo (Guyana Sugar Corporation) for 2018. What we were not sure about is what was going to be the final figure. So, in December and in January, the exact figure started to emerge, and that is why we had to make addition amounts available,” he said.
The minister further pointed out that in order to meet the promised payment of severance, the various ministries will now have to go back to the Finance Ministry to determine where and what programmes can be cut to allow for this expenditure to be met from the state’s resources.
Nevertheless, the State Minister posited that in spite of criticisms it faces, Government will continue to make decisions in the interest of Guyanese.

Small loans
President Granger had disclosed that an additional $100 million would be set aside to provide small loans to the dismissed workers for entrepreneurial activities. According to the State Minister, Government will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure that such facilities and arrangements are in place to allow for an easier transition for the retrenched sugar workers.
The Government’s spokesperson also took the opportunity to lash out at the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Opposition for its constant criticisms and lack of action in partaking in consultations.
He went on to outline that the Special Purpose Unit (SPU) has indicated that there is significant enthusiasm by both local and foreign companies for the divestment of GuySuCo’s assets.
“There is a serious expression of interest by a local company… So we have a situation where some people deem it as a crisis, but we see it as an opportunity to put things right, fix it and move on,” the Minister posited.
The company to which Harmon is referring is the local beverage giant Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL), which has submitted an Expression of Interest (EoI) for the potential purchase of one of the sugar estates.
The company, producers of the international award-winning El Dorado Rum, has raised concerns over Government’s plans to downsize the sugar sector, since it heavily depends on molasses for its production.
DDL’s molasses requirement for 2018 is pegged at 70,000 tons, while the three estates currently earmarked to remain in operation would produce only 52,000 tons of molasses.
Public Relations Representative of DDL, Alex Graham, had previously told the Guyana Times that once the supply of molasses was threatened, it was in the company’s interest to explore options with the intention of finding a solution.