Gov’t seeking supplementary funds of $1.75b for sugar severance

-$2.25b to be paid by end of January

Winston Jordan

Four weeks after passing a $267 billion budget for 2018, the National Assembly will debate a supplemental provision of $1.75 billion to meet a portion of the severance pay for around 4,000 sugar workers.

The provision, the first financial paper for this year, seeks to meet part of severance payments due to the retrenched workers of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo). It was laid in the House yesterday by Minister of Finance Winston Jordan and is to be debated today.

According to the details of the provision the estimated cost of severance is $4.24 billion, a little more than 50% of which will be paid at the end of January. Additional sums are slated to be paid by the end of 2018.

GuySuCo was allocated $6.3 billion in 2018, of that sum $500 million has been earmarked for severance payment and will be paid out at the same time as the $1.75 billion if approved. This means that government will be paying workers $2.25 billion at the end of January.

The APNU+AFC government has announced a decision to resize the local sugar industry an endeavour which has so far seen the closure of several estates and the retrenchment of approximately 4000 workers.

While these workers were given letters which terminated their services as of December 31, 2017 they have yet to be paid severance, a situation which has led to several protests.

Last week, President David Granger promised the laid-off sugar workers that they will receive 50% of their severance payments by the end of this month and the remainder in the second half of the year.

The announcement of government’s severance payment plan was however not welcomed by the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), which declared the move to be illegal under the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act.

At a protest held in Skeldon, Upper Corentyne, a day after the President’s announcement, President of GAWU, Komal Chand stated that the government’s announcement is a violation of the law.

He told the protestors, “When you become redundant you are entitled to your severance pay… it is your legal right.”

The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) also declared the government’s promises to pay dismissed sugar worker severance in two installments as “not good enough.” The umbrella body argued that the failure to budget for the payouts is a worrying sign of intensified attacks on workers’ rights.

GTUC’s statement came one day after Minister of State Joseph Harmon disclosed that only $500 million was allocated in the 2018 national budget for severance payments.

Severance, they argued, should have been paid at time of termination, so that workers can move on with their lives. The body stressed that when the relationship is severed between an employer and employee, industrial relations practice dictates that the employee hands over to the employer all properties of the employer and that the employer hand over forthwith all monies accrued and owing to the employee.

The GTUC explained that the natural occurrence with closures is that there will be loss of jobs but it argued that GuySuCo’s failure to pay the workers their prescribed benefit at least at the pay day immediately following their date of termination speaks to a “callous approach” to the workers’ welfare.

Meanwhile government has been unable to clearly explain its budgeting decisions with Harmon claiming Cabinet was unaware of the exact number of workers to be sent home while leader of the Alliance for Change (AFC) Raphael Trotman claimed that billions in expenditure following the Camp Street Prison Fire left government unable to properly budget for severance.

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