Severance to sugar workers will begin January – Holder

Noel Holder

Payment of severance to 4,000 sugar workers will begin sometime in January, according to Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder.

His statement at a press conference yesterday came amid concerns raised by the sugar union GAWU that it had been told by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) that there was no money for severance. The GuySuCo position reflected the ongoing dissonance between its statements and those by the Guyana Government on the massive ongoing upheaval in the industry.

Holder said that payouts will commence in January but could not give a specific date. He said the decision was made by cabinet and despite what the union said about the sugar company not having money, allocations were made from the 2018 budget to the Agriculture Ministry to pay the workers.  In addition to the budgetary allocations, he also pointed out that there are funds that will also be available through other avenues that will be used to pay the workers.

In a press statement yesterday, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) stated that it was “dismayed and surprised” to learn during a recent engagement with GuySuCo that the sugar company has no money to pay the 4,000 workers who will be made redundant at the Skeldon, Rose Hall and East Demerara estates by the end of the month.

According to GAWU, December 29 is the last working day for these workers and they were expecting to receive their payments in time to sustain themselves and families “during this difficult period brought about by the harsh and heartless plans for the sugar industry”.

The union further noted that GuySuCo’s admission is in contrast with what government officials have been saying recently.

“We drew to the GuySuCo’s attention for instance that Minister of State, Joseph Harmon pointed out that a significant chunk of state support flowing from the 2018 budget was intended to offset the severance payments to the redundant workers,” the release said, while indicating that GuySuCo explained to the union that the allocation of $6.3 billion was intended “solely and wholly” to support the operations of the three estates that will remain active.

The union also pointed out that questions were raised about the $2.5 billion loan that was recently obtained and it was revealed that the money was obtained with the intention of sustaining the Corporation’s operations until the 2018 first crop starts.

This, the statement said, is starkly different from what GuySuCo’s Chair-man, Clive Thomas was reported as saying in the December 7 edition of the Guyana Chronicle. It noted that Thomas had explained that the loan, which was obtained from a local bank, would not only assist in paying the workers their severance but also aid in covering the company’s expenses for the azremainder of the year and that workers would receive their severance payment by December 31.

According to GAWU, during the engagement the Corporation said that earlier in the year it had advised the government of the need for support to finance the payments. At that time a preliminary figure was submitted to the administration while an updated one was submitted a few days ago.

However, the sugar company was informed that the recently submitted figure is not final since the audit department was still examining data and that process would be completed sometime in January and then a final sum would be submitted to the government. When the final figure is submitted to the government to be considered, it would then be taken to the National Assembly for a supplementary allocation. This process would take some months and could result in the workers having to wait until February to be paid, the statement added.

“The admission by GuySuCo only serves to make matters worse as the beleaguered workers are now being told that they have no job and will not receive their legally entitled severance payments when the Corporation kicks them out on to the road on December 29, this year. This for GAWU is most upsetting and only serves to rub salt in the wound. Our union, in view of the Corporation’s depressing information, has requested that GuySuCo retains the workers in suitable employment until it is in a position to honour the workers severance payments,” the statement added.

Stabroek News’ efforts yesterday to contact representatives from the sugar company proved futile.

However, when GAWU had issued a previous statement on Monday indicating that some 30 foremen and forewomen from the Enmore Estate had not been paid their severance despite their last working day being in November, GuySuCo’s PRO Audreyanna Thomas stated that all the workers would be paid next month.

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