Sugar workers despondent over non-payment of severance – GAWU

The sugar union GAWU yesterday stated that the administration needs to say without further delay when severance payments will be made to thousands of worker laid off at the end of December, arguing that the uncertainty had created despondency and two suicides have occurred.

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) said it is deeply saddened to learn that, in recent days, two former sugar workers of the Wales and Rose Hall Estates reportedly took the unfortunate decision to end their lives. The union in a statement said that they seemingly, could not bear the pressures of a “jobless, misery-filled life occasioned by the Government’s infamous plans to close haphazardly a number of sugar estates”.

At Wales, Ramnarase Bissesar ingested what is said to be gramoxone on December 28, 2017. The union said that he was among the 350-odd cane cutters who have been denied illegally his severance pay by the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo). GAWU said that it was reliably informed that on the ill-fated day, Bissesar returned home at Inner Stanley-town, West Bank Demerara around 2 pm after he visited some friends and told his wife that he wasn’t sure how he was going to live since he didn’t get his severance payment and he could not secure even part-time work. Soon after, the union said that he went to the upper flat of the house where he ingested the poisonous substance. His wife found him and rushed him to the West Demerara Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

At Rose Hall, Joseph Mohabir hung himself in his bedroom on Old Year’s day. He was required to return his motorcycle on December 30, 2017 to Rose Hall Estate and he complied, the union said. Before he ended his life, he visited the storeroom where the cycle was kept twice in the afternoon. GAWU said that 39-year-old Mohabir began his working life in the sugar industry at a young age and moved up the ranks to Field Superintendent, the post he held at the time of his sudden retrenchment. On occasions he acted as Field Manager. He also had high expectations to receive his severance pay on December 29, 2017.

GAWU said that while the two incidents are more extreme manifestations, the laying-off of thousands of sugar workers has been a serious psychological factor and is pushing some into a depressive, despondent and desperate state.

“For them, the taking away of their only means to earn a living and the only job they have ever known can never be accepted and undoubtedly is leading to despair as these two moving instances demonstrate.

“We contend that the Government’s plans toward the sugar industry were most ill-conceived and undoubtedly spiteful. Indeed, it will be a spectre that will haunt our nation for years and even new generations to come. At this time, it is incumbent for the Government to quickly arrest what, clearly, is a frightening situation. Without any further delay the Administration needs to advise on the date of payment of the workers’ severance pay and the provision of alternative employment available noting that workers expenses have not ceased though their jobs were taken away and bearing in mind too that it is not too late in correcting the closure decision taken. Immediately, in the sugar belt the conduct of suicidal counselling should begin. Time is clearly of the essence as the reality has shown”, the union said.

It urged workers and other family members who may harbour suicidal thoughts to steer their mind in other directions. It noted that persons can also access help from the Inter-Agency Suicide Prevention Helpline through telephone numbers: 223-0818, 223-0009 223-0001, 600-7896 or 623-4444.

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