Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday said that government’s retrenchment of thousands of sugar workers differs greatly from the 2010 termination of the workers attached to the estate at Diamond, East Bank Demerera.
“Two situations are very, very different. The scale, the ability to absorb workers elsewhere all of this…This is seven thousand people …from Wales and the other places. Eventually they are gonna say no”, Jagdeo said while responding to questions during a press conference held at his Church Street office.
Jagdeo told Canje sugar workers on December 16 that if the PPP/C is re-elected in 2020 the workers will benefit from the budget by way of a monthly payment until they are re-employed. Trade unionist Lincoln Lewis recently said that this statement should be questioned given that the Diamond sugar workers only got severance after they filed an action in the court.
The Opposition Leader was asked to respond to claims of a contradiction and to justify why any thought should be given to his recent statement in light of what occurred with the sugar workers in 2010.
Jagdeo said that in relation to the Diamond workers there was a dispute between GuySuCo and the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) over the workers’ deployment to other estates as many were calling for severance pay.
He said that the labour laws of Guyana state that an employer can transfer you within a ten miles radius once they provide transportation. “So they were arguing for severance because they didn’t want to be transferred”. Jagdeo recalled that he personally met with the union and some representatives of the workers at the Princess Hotel. “They (GuySuCo) did not have money, to pay the severance at that time and they were arguing that the workers were offered jobs elsewhere and I said we will give you the money to pay the severance and the state gave them the money to pay the severance”, he said adding that this situation is different to the one which exists today. He said that at LBI the same thing happened. He recalled that there were about 250 workers most of them got transferred to Enmore and some stayed on at a workshop at LBI while four workers opted for severance.
“So it is a very different approach”, he insisted while adding that in a number of cases the State has to step in to pay severance to workers.
Meanwhile, Jagdeo noted that thousands of workers have received terminations letters following “a political decision” made by government long before any attempt was made to tackle the technical issues surrounding the industry.
“Now recently we have heard about the Government being sympathetic to the sugar workers once again. So my point is that they love the sugar workers so much now that they had to send them home for their own good. This is the new narrative…take away bread from the sugar workers and their families because they love them and love this country”, he said.
He noted that Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo in the State-owned newspaper is repeating the “old worn out arguments again about how the industry was saddled with eighty something billion dollars of debt when they took office. That has been disproved so many times”.
Jagdeo said that now that government has taken this irreversible decision, “we’re (PPP) demanding that they pay the workers their severance immediately, urgently. That this is the law and that the calculations be accurate” he said, before reminding that he was in the sugar belt last weekend and met with workers from Canje and Skeldon. He said in the new year he will be meeting with sugar workers from the estates at Wales and Enmore.
He stressed that a failure to assist the thousands of retrenched sugar workers will result in harm not only to them but the entire community.