Injustices to sugar workers are being perpetrated anew

Dear Editor,

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) has taken note of the letter appearing in the March 21 edition of the Guyana Times from the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo). The letter, written by the corporation’s Senior Communications Officer Audreyanna Thomas, we see as another sad attempt to justify the company’s wrong decision to deny some 300 workers from Wales Estate their rightful severance entitlement.

GuySuCo is arguing that it is the company that has the right to make the employees redundant or not. But the corporation seems to forget that by its very decision to end sugar production at Wales it has in effect made the workforce redundant. Moreover, the fact that the corporation has severed already many hundreds of workers further reinforces the point that redundancy has arisen and is certainly an aspect of the ugly situation in the industry currently.

The corporation letter goes on to point to Section 21(4)(b) of the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act (TESPA) not being invoked. We disagree, emphatically. That section, we wish to remind and emphasize, advises that a worker is entitled to severance if he/she is sent to a location more than ten miles away from his/her base location. On this we wish to point out that Uitvlugt Estate, not taking into account the journey into the cultivation areas, is some 22 miles away from Wales.

Clearly, the section of the Act referred to by GuySuCo must be taken account of and it supports the workers’ cause. We see the corporation’s assertions as mere semantics intended to divert and distract from the truth of the matter.

The letter goes on to point out that the Wales workers for the daily journey to Uitvlugt would be paid the disturbance allowance in keeping with the Collective Labour Agreement (CLA). However, what GuySuCo fails to tell the affected workers and Guyanese is that the CLA says with respect to this allowance:- “Having regard to the need to move field and factory workers between and among Estates, from time to time…” This reference from the CLA does not speak to any permanency of the allowance. In this regard, GuySuCo, by its ill-thought out attempt may be guilty of yet another disrespect of the CLA.

We strongly contend that the corporation’s intention is to unilaterally, and contrary to the laws of the land, transfer the 300-odd workers to Uitvlugt thus frustrating them and bring on conditions that are not conducive for them to continue to work. In such circumstances, GuySuCo can very well seek to deny them their payments for their years of service rendered.

It is disheartening to register, at this time, when our nation is observing the centennial anniversary of the end of indentureship in our country, that the corporation is engaging in schemes that promote forced labour and is giving no, or little or selective, recognition to the laws, the CLA, and customs and practices which seek to promote and protect workers and which have been won due to their arduous and self-sacrificing struggles. The present-day assault on the sugar workers stirs memories of the many struggles waged in the past which resulted in many lives lost and which were instigated by the private owners, the plantocracy. It is apt to point out, just a few days ago, we observed the anniversary of the gunning down of workers at Rose Hall Estate, which was one of the worst killings of sugar workers in Guyana’s history.

As we are seeing, injustices to workers are being perpetrated anew. Workers’ vigilance and actions are more and more required to defend their gains, safeguard their democratic rights and ensure their just demands are realized.

Yours faithfully,

Seepaul Narine

General Secretary

Guyana Agricultural and

General Workers Union  

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