Skeldon protest ups pressure over severance

There was a significant police presence at the Skeldon protest yesterday by laid-off sugar workers.

At a protest held in Skeldon, Upper Corentyne yesterday, the President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), Komal Chand called on the government to “respect the law” and pay thousands of laid-off sugar workers their full severance.

With the government coming in for heavy flak over the severance, President David Granger on Wednesday announced to the nation that half would be paid by the end of this month and the other half in the second half of this year.

Chand, addressing the former sugar workers and their relatives, stated that the government’s announcement on Wednesday is in violation of the law.  He told the protestors, “When you become redundant you are entitled to your severance pay…It is your legal right”, to receive severance pay.

He further added that the President of the country needs to respect the law. He said, “You cannot give them half and hold back half, the (workers) are supposed to get their severance pay at the expiry of their letters, two weeks already pass”.

The union president further stressed that the union will use every forum to raise their objection to the government’s decision to  pay only half of the severance at the end of the month.

“We are prepared to march with you, we are prepared to go to court on this matter, we are not going to leave any stone unturned, it’s an injustice”, he declared.

He further said, “… if the government could set that pattern, God be with the workers of this country, God be with the private sector’s workers and other government employees”.

Chand railed at the government’s “fake promises” while in campaign mode before being elected to govern.

“This is what (Khemraj) Ramjattan (Minister of Public Security) said ‘We are not going to in any way close the sugar industry, we intend to make that industry profitable again because it creates so much employment directly and indirectly for so many people across this country’ that is Khemraj talking at the Whim Rally of APNU+AFC on March, 2015”.

Chand also quoted President Granger when he said that although there was no ‘quick fix’ for the sugar industry the government would not be looking at dissolving GuySuCo. He said, “You (President Granger) have dissolved 50% of the industry already”.

At the beginning of yesterday’s protest, police ranks present at the scene reportedly received verbal instructions to not allow the protesting line to be accompanied by a music maker, despite the fact that GAWU had a permit present in its possession.

The hundreds of former GuySuCo employees gathered did not take this lightly and decided to stand in the middle of the road bringing an abrupt halt to the flow of traffic in Skeldon. At this point, senior ranks present made several phone calls and shortly after the protestors were allowed to play their music.

Chand during his speech commended the workers for taking firm action in demanding that the music be played. “We got permission we are not violators of the law, but the spirit you displayed this morning you said it is eye pass”.

Workers gathered at the protest also voiced their demand for full severance.

Chetram Kanniu, 59, stated that he is depending a lot on his severance pay to support himself and wife. “Right now me get it rough because me na working, things starting to get really hard, me waiting for the package to come out”.

The man said he is unsure as to how he will meet his bills come month end, “… that is a good question you ask because I don’t know. You think me na take on, every day me a sit down and study how we gon able live”.

Kanniu further explained, that in his younger days he took a loan from a bank to build his house. He said that he is grateful that he was able to pay off his loan before he lost his job.

“I thank God that I pay out the bank, I make me house lil bit … at least we get it to live but we got to eat and pay bills still”, he said.

Another one of the unemployed men, Calvin Anthony, 42, stated that presently his fate is in God’s hands. He stressed that he too is hoping to receive his entire severance pay.

Junior Rampertab, 57, noted that since receiving his letter he has been on the hunt for another job.

“We hoping the severance pay gone help us till we find work”. According to Rampertab, Skeldon workers are also awaiting their additional payments that had been promised for those who had worked for over 10 years with the sugar corporation.

Another unemployed man, Karamchand, 53, a father of two school children said while he is on the hunt for another job, he is hoping that his severance pay can aid in his children staying in school. “This severance pay I depend on for my children and me, this will help me to keep them in school”, he said.

Devendralall Ramjass, 56, a father of three noted that he also is in need of his severance pay in order to continue to provide for his family until he can secure another job.

On Tuesday, GAWU organised a protest in Rose Hall, East Canje which saw support from hundreds of workers who were severed from the Rose Hall Estate as part of the closure plans.