Severed Wales sugar workers having hard time finding employment

Henry Hinds, a process foreman at the Wales estate, received severance payments three months ago and failing to secure another job, has decided to invest the money in fixing his car to work taxi.

He was among 90 plus workers to receive their severance benefits in February, after the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) served them one month’s notice of its intention to close the estate.

In January 2016, after the APNU+AFC coalition government announced that it planned to close, workers and their families held many protests, marches and candlelight vigils so as to have the decision reversed.

Gordon Thomas

Recently, in the National Assembly, the government presented a White Paper about the future of GuySuCo, which included closing the Rose Hall estate in Canje, Berbice and the Enmore/LBI estate.

Hinds sought employment at a few places and eventually got through to work at a wharf. But he turned the job down after he was told that he had to work during the night shift for one year.

Serving for 23 years at the estate in both night and day shifts, Hinds said that at his age he could no longer work in that condition.

He then made a decision to use the money to replace some of the parts on his car and to spray it. It is currently at the mechanic and should be “ready for the road” in about a month’s time.

His last day to work was on February 5 and he received payments for January and for four days in February. Hinds said he “had to take the severance because I ain’t reach pension age and there was no work for me at Uitvlugt [estate].”

According to him, his “friends are searching every day and they are not finding anything suitable.” Some have accepted jobs as “security guards because they have to feed their families. The job is not paying well but what can they do?”

Leo Allen, 57 of Patentia Scheme has also accepted severance benefits and since he stopped working on February 24, he tried to sell coconuts for a living. However, the business was “very slow” and he had to discontinue.

He said some of the other workers would “get one or two days’ work.” He is “waiting on the government to see the next move… Even if they give us the land we would need money to invest in it.” He may use his severance payments for that purpose.

Expressing frustration over the closure of the Wales estate, he said he hopes the government would rethink its decision to close the others.

“They should do a study and know how the people would be affected, rather than closing the estates and have the country fill with criminals,” Allen said.

Mahendra Gharbaran, 46, who worked as a senior Grade One mechanic in a field workshop and later as a mechanic on a barge was “still at home” after his work at Wales came to an end at the estate on February 25.

He has applied to many places but was initially told that no vacancies existed. With 30 years of experience, Gharbaran of Patentia Scheme said he eventually got responses but “because dem know we desperate for a job dem want to pay cheap labour.”

Rough situation

He pointed out that: “This is a rough situation. I have phone bill, light bill and water bill to pay. The money that some places want to pay can’t compensate me to run home and pay bills.”

His teenage daughter is preparing for the Carib-bean Secondary Education Certificate exams next year and he would have to “find a way to earn money to deal with all this expenses. I’m frustrated to know what is happening right now.”

Besides, he is not satisfied with his severance payments, saying that GuySuCo had calculated his benefits incorrectly. He has used some of the money to paint his house.

Gordon Thomas, a tug operator and representative of the Guyana Agricultural & General Workers’ Union, told Stabroek News that he too was not finding work since accepting his severance payments.

He has also applied to many places and was “feeling frustrated because there is nothing to do. And now they are talking about closing the other estates. What would happen in the country when they close more?”

He pointed out that that the closure has resulted in “broken homes… about three of the workers’ wives go away and leave them because they are not working and they [wives] couldn’t deal with it… I’m serious!”

He said too that “this is a lot of strain and suffering on the people. There is nothing that they can do and the government should rethink carefully and do a study… And now they make it harder by putting VAT on light and water.”

Thomas said he would have liked to invest the money he got as severance benefits but was afraid that “I would not get my returns and my investment would go down the drain. Nobody has money so who is going to support you?”

He lamented: “We living in a dreamland… we living in hopes. It is a living nightmare for the people but we ask everybody to stand strong together.”

“We thought the government would [have] work[ed] together to find a solution. If like they said ‘sugar is too big to fail,’ why didn’t they consult with the people? We are suffering at Wales and we are wondering what would happen to the people in Enmore and Rose Hall.”

Presently, over 300 cane-cutters and cane transporters are demanding their severance benefits but GuySuCo said it is not willing to pay and has offered them jobs at the Uitvlugt estate.

With regards to the workers not finding jobs, GuySuCo had said that it was for that same reason that it was offering them jobs at Uitvlugt so as to “keep them on the payroll.”

However, the workers, calling it a “bluff” said they “would not fall for that.” According to them, section 12 of the Termina-tion of Employment & Severance Pay Act, states that if the closest estate is more than a distance of 10 miles, they have to be paid their severance benefits.

The Uitvlugt estate, including cultivation, they said, is more than 30 miles away and they insisted that they must be paid.

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