After months of demonstrations and repeated expressions of frustration, sugar workers and their families on Thursday staged protest exercises at the Ministry of the Presidency and at Parliament Buildings, calling for the President and Agriculture Minister to immediately address their concerns.
Sugar workers attached to the defunct Wales Estate and the soon-to-be-closed Enmore Estate stood united in their condemnation of Government’s reported intention to keep only three estates operational. The protestors were standing in solidarity with the many Wales sugar workers who have reportedly been denied their severance packages since December 2016.
“We need we money! Dem close Wales Estate and is high time!” one sugar worker shouted.
A nearby protestor refuted the claim of the Agriculture Ministry, which has stated that all sugar workers who desired severance payment have already been paid off. Some protestors have said that Agriculture Minister Noel Holder should come and face them, while other demonstrators have decried management of the Guyana Sugar Corporation and its Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Errol Hanoman.
“When them was opposition they said the CEO getting too much money a month, [but] when them take Parliament them bring back the same CEO for run the same corporation. They dig one hole to full a next hole!” a protestor from Enmore Estate exclaimed.
He also expressed that the Enmore workers will “feel the same way” once that factory is closed. It has been alleged that that estate may cease operating at the end of this year.
“Them give us a white paper at the Ministry of Agriculture, and de white paper mark that them gon close Enmore Estate after harvesting crop 2017,” a demonstrator explained.
Another protestor lamented the treatment meted out to sugar workers, and called for senior government officials to be removed.
“Dem nah raise nobody money! Dem a punish de people dem! They all for themselves; and Harmon (Minister of State) and Nagamootoo (Prime Minister) must go, just like how dem a close de estates,” the man expressed.
Relatives of the Sugar workers told Guyana Times of the steep challenges they have been facing since the estate cased operating last year.
“My husband working at Wales Sugar Estate, and since last year he is not working; and I have five children to (send) to school. Where I gon get this money from? We asking the President to intervene in our matter,” Salima Bacchus told this newspaper.
“My children going to school. I have to pack four bags in the morning alone. The (Education) Ministry sending raffle, [but] how can I find $4000 for raffle when I can’t pack their bag in the morning?” another mother highlighted.
Other wives, who also brought their offspring to the protest, told Guyana Times that their families’ savings are being depleted and they are struggling to make ends meet.
“We need we children to get education! The people must get work! Right now my husband is out of a job, I out of a job, I have a baby to look to milk, to get porridge stuff. Everything!” another mother of four noted.
Meanwhile, Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) President, Komal Chand, has described Agriculture Minister Noel Holder’s handling of the sector as heartless, and noted that the workers are becoming desperate.
“He said every worker got their severance pay. He must come here and reiterate that, because he is living in a dreamland…I am certain that he’s heartless; I want to know how he’s living without a heart. [But] while I don’t want to be personal, that man doesn’t know the reality,” the union leader noted. GAWU reiterated that the Corporation is “demanding” for workers to take up work at Uitvlugt Estate, which is some 22 miles away from Wales. It was explained that this is not in keeping with the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act (TESPA). A protestor led a small prayer session, calling on Devine Powers to inspire President David Granger and other Government officials to reverse the closure of estates. The protest later moved to Parliament Buildings, so that members of the National Assembly could hear the cries of the sugar workers as they entered the law making house.
Government closed Wales Estate based on 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 operational.