Unions appeal after court denies bid to block closure of sugar estates

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) have appealed a ruling by acting Chief Justice Roxane George, who earlier this month denied their bid to prevent the closure of the East Demerara and Rose Hall sugar estates.

On November 9, the judge refused the nisi orders which were being sought by the GAWU and NAACIE against the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) and Cabinet’s decision to close the estates. They have since appealed the Chief Justice’s ruling, arguing that she erred in her determination to deny their application. Since the time for the closure is fast approaching, the unions are hoping that the Appeal Court would consider its matter as soon as possible.

The estates were initially scheduled to be closed by year end. However, more recently, Minister of State Joseph Harmon announced that the closures are more likely going to take effect early in new year.

The unions are of the belief that their appeal has “great merit and substance.”

In their application before the chief justice, the unions had argued that the decision to close the estates was improper as there was insufficient consultations between the government and GuySuCo on one hand, and the GAWU and the NAACIE on the other.

It is their contention too that sufficient time had not been allocated for consultations on the future of the sugar industry.

The unions have said that the four hours in total spent on the three occasions the parties met were not adequate to have decided the future of the sugar industry.

GAWU and NAACIE have argued that they have a legitimate expectation to be consulted in a comprehensive manner, while noting previous instances where the sugar corporation had extensively involved them in decisions which would have affected the employment of workers.

Pointing to the Commission of Inquiry (Col) into the operations of the sugar industry, the unions lamented the time invested reviewing information, considering submissions from individuals and organisations, and visiting the estates and interacting with workers and managerial personnel, only for the government to disregard its recommendation that closure not be pursued.

According to the unions, the decision to close estates was clearly not informed by all factors to be considered, especially a socio-economic study which should have necessitated any such move.

The application advanced too that the decision to close failed to conform to procedures clearly contained in the Trade Union Recognition Act and the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act.

The unions sought to have the government and GuySuCo to engage “in a proper and full consultation,” holding that such an exercise will result in a different decision being taken.

They were also asking the High Court to have the state pay damages to the ex-Wales Estate workers.

They argued, too, that the State, as owner of GuySuCo, should be bound to provide suitable alternative employment or income support in lieu of work to the displaced workers for the rest of their working lives.

The unions were also seeking pension for the affected workers, equivalent to what they would have received had they been employed by the sugar corporation, arguing that they have a fair expectation to employment until they attain pensionable age.

GAWU and NAACIE had contended that sugar workers possess unique skills which are not portable, presenting grave difficulty for them to secure employment beyond the industry.

In a press release, the unions said they hoped that the appeal would receive speedy attention given what they say are “the difficult times that have beset the people of Wales [Estate].”

According to unions, they are fortified in their determination to protect the workers who will be affected by the plans for sugar and will use every available option to safeguard the workers, their families and their communities, “who are seemingly, at this time, can be said to be up the river without a paddle.”

GAWU and NAACIE are contending that there are “no real or workable alternatives for the displaced sugar workers and they, their families and their communities will suffer tremendously from the cold-hearted approach to the industry.”

 

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