The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) yesterday filed an application in the High Court on behalf of the more than 4,000 retrenched sugar workers, asking for them to be paid their full severance and all other monies owed.
In the application filed by a team of lawyers headed by former Attorney General Anil Nandlall, GAWU was listed as the applicant while the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) is the first named respondent and the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), the second named respondent.
GAWU, which represents the interests of most of the sugar workers, is asking for a Declaration that 4,283 sugar employees, specifically from the Skeldon, Rosehall and the East Demerara Sugar Estates, who were rendered redundant in accordance with the provisions of the Termination of Employ-ment and Severance Pay Act, Chapter 96:01, by letters dated various dates in the month of November, 2017, are entitled to severance or redundancy allowances, as well as an Order directing the Respondents, their officers, servants and agents, to pay all money owed forthwith.
An estimated quantum was not stated in the application.
The grounds of the application stated that the redundant workers were to receive their redundancy allowance/severance payments no later than 29th December, 2017, in accordance with their termination letters and in the spirit of Section 21 of the Termination of Employ-ment and Severance Pay Act.
“To date, the said workers were paid only a portion of their redundancy allowance/severance payment and despite the workers’ as well as the Applicant’s repeated demands to the First Named Respondent for payment of the full redundancy allowance/severance payment due, owing and payable to the said workers, the First Named Respondent has failed and refused to do so”, GAWU argues.
It is being argued that GuySuCo had transferred all of its assets to NICIL by an Order of the Minister of Finance published in the Official Gazette (Extraordinary) of Guyana dated 30th December, 2017 and that all the assets of GuySuCo have been collateralized as security for a $30B loan that it has or is borrowing from commercial banks.
It was explained in the application that GAWU is and was at all material times an association registered as a trade union under Section 15 of the Trade Unions Act, Chapter 98:02, and the recognised majority union of all workers employed by GuySuCo under the provisions of the Trade Union Recognition Act, Chapter 98:07.
At all material times, GuySuCo is and was a statutory body corporate and the employer of 4,283 workers at Skeldon, Rosehall and the East Demerara Sugar Estates while NICIL is and was at all material times a company duly incorporated under the Companies Act, Laws of Guyana, to which all the assets of GuySuCo has been vested.
The workers were given their retrenchment letters with at least one month’s notice. Their last day at work was December 29, 2017.
According to the application, similar letters were sent to an additional 480 GuySuCo employees of which 130 are senior staff and the remainder are members of the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE).
Government had said that the severance to the workers would be paid out in two tranches, with 50% being released by the end of January and the remainder to be paid out before the end of the year. However, workers who were entitled to a severance payment of $500,000 or less were to have received their full payment by the end of January this year.
Since the January payment, the government has said nothing about when the remainder would be handed out.
By law, the severance payment should be made at the time of termination of employment and the failure of GuySuCo and the government to comply with this provision has raised eyebrows.
By its own admission, the government was aware that the workers would be let go of and having presented the 2018 budget on November 27th, 2017, it still did not make provisions for the estimated $5 billion in severance payments.
In January this year, laid-off Skeldon Estate sugar workers received some of their severance and many had said they were planning to invest a portion of the money in farming so that they can continue to provide for their families.