No final decision yet on redeployment of Wales sugar workers, GAWU says

- urges severance payments

Discussions are still ongoing on whether the several hundred workers attached to the recently-closed Wales Sugar Estate will take up employment at the Uitvlugt Estate, Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) clarified yesterday while emphasising that severance has to be paid before such an offer was even considered.

The union yesterday responded to what it described as puzzling reports in the media based on a press release from the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), which said that some 650 workers from the recently-closed estate would be taking up employment at the Uitvlugt Estate.

According to a GAWU statement that was released yesterday, GuySuCo’s statement, while appearing definitive, was not reflective of the discussions and conclusions reached at the GAWU-GuySuCo engagement on February 1, 2017.

It was explained that at that meeting, which took place at the LBI Training Building, the corporation informed the union’s delegation, comprising union officials and shop stewards, that it was seeking to have some 420 workers – cane cutters and the workers engaged in transporting the canes from the fields to the factory – take up work at Uitvlugt Estate to augment that estate’s labour pool.

The statement said the shop stewards advised the corporation’s representatives at the meeting that they along with their fellow workers were seeking to have, in keeping with the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act, their redundancy pay arising from the discontinuation of cane growing and sugar processing at Wales Estate.

“GAWU emphasised and entreated the corporation to discharge its legal obligation to the workers and provide their redundancy payments and, thereafter, may encourage them to take up work at Uitvlugt and to which the union is supportive,” GAWU said yesterday, while noting that the parties concluded the meeting by agreeing to jointly engage every one of the approximate 420 workers on GuySuCo’s proposal. Such an exercise, the GAWU statement said, would be conducted on February 8 and 9, 2017.

GAWU also stated that notwithstanding the non-completion of the interviews with the workers, the management of the Wales Estate reportedly “instructed the cane cutters to report for work at Uitvlugt Estate” from February 6, 2017. This, it said, “angered workers and resulted in a protest outside the Wales administrative office.” The workers gathered at Wales yesterday, but the protest did not take place, one workers told this newspaper. He said that after they congregated they realised that they had no placards and decided to reschedule the protest for today.

GAWU said the workers felt GuySuCo was manoeuvring to deny them their redundancy payment for the years of service they rendered to Wales Estate.

The union made it clear that it intended to seek clarification from GuySuCo regarding the Wales Estate management’s advice to the workers as it was not an accurate representation of the meeting between the union and the corporation.

In its statement last week, GuySuCo said the Uitvlugt Estate was preparing to boost its production from 20,000 to 40,000 tonnes of sugar annually, thereby creating a demand for labour that could be filled by the retention of the cane harvesters and cane transport employees at Wales Estate.

The employees from both categories would be transported to Uitvlugt Estate on a daily basis, it noted.

According to GuySuCo, the decision was also influenced by views from the majority of employees during various protests on their preference to keep their jobs. There were more than 950 employees on register at Wales Estate, out of which 650 will remain employees of that estate, it said.

In January last year, GuySuCo had announced that cane cultivation would end at Wales on December 31. The surprise announcement plunged the industry into uncertainty and left hundreds worried about their jobs.

Discussions are currently underway between the government and the opposition that could lead to more sugar estates being sold or closed.