Sugar workers protest move from cash to banking system for payment of wage

—cite fears of being victims of robbery

Workers on the picket line (GAWU photo)

Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) workers yesterday protested the company’s decision to issue wages through the bank, arguing that it will make it more difficult and costlier for payments to be accessed, and expressing fears of being robbed.

However, the management of GuySuCo has reiterated that the decision is in the interest of upgrading and securing their financial system.

A press release from the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) yesterday afternoon explained that a protest was held by several workers and pensioners outside of the Uitvlugt Estate’s administrative office, to call on the sugar company to put an end to the coercion of workers, in its bid to have wages and pensions paid through the bank.

“The protesters related that the Corporation has been ignoring their sincere concerns regarding its demand, if not edict. The state-owned company is now telling the aggrieved that soon they will not be paid unless they submit their banking information to the estate. While we would want to believe the Corporation knows that withholding workers’ wages is an illegal act by itself, the GuySuCo’s belligerently disrespectful attitude towards long-standing practices, laws, and even international conventions in recent times, has us believe that the Company is least bothered by the fact and the stain of notoriety,” GAWU’s statement read.

The statement added that the protestors have related to GuySuCo that being paid through the banking system would place greater pressure on them, and said that GuySuCo was also informed that workers will not be forced to “expend several hundred dollars weekly” in order to travel to the closest banks, located at Vreed-en-Hoop and Parika, to withdraw their wages.

“Most recently, the GAWU noted that one bank increased its withdrawal fees, and, we want to believe, that the other banks may well follow suit. They [the protestors] related that with pay rates frozen in the sugar industry since 2014; lesser work opportunities; and a reduction in incentive payments, among other things, they can hardly bear the costs GuySuCo is asking them to fetch. They said, as it stands right now, they are barely keeping their heads above water as they have been forced to significantly cut their cloth to suit their purpose,” the release related.

It added that workers were worried that they may be forced to make several trips if the ATMs proved to be inoperable and stated that in addition to the cost of travel, workers and pensioners will also incur a charge to withdraw their wages “which are far from princely” from the bank.

Added to that, GAWU also said that pensioners and workers have made the estate management aware of their fears that they may possibly be robbed after exiting the bank.

However, Corporate Communications Manager of the sugar company, Audreyanna Thomas, reemphasised yesterday that the requirement for a bank account is part of the company’s plan to upgrade their financial and security systems.

“It’s a policy across the board. They were informed that they need to have bank accounts to have their payments and this is part of our security arrangement as well as updating our financial system and improving our efficiency,” Thomas said, while stating that they are of the opinion that GAWU is using the situation to encourage workers to protest.

“This is a simple issue. Your employer is asking you to establish a bank account so we could be able to upgrade our systems. We have large sums of cash we are paying ever so often and so we have to be more security conscious and we have to update our system as we try to improve the corporation,” Thomas said.

She explained that instead of encouraging protests, GAWU should encourage the employees to get their bank accounts ready to receive their payments.

“What should’ve happened is that the employees should’ve engaged their management and explain that they didn’t get to take out the bank account and ask for an extension. We have been doing this process for a while,” she related.

GAWU, in its release, had acknowledged the argument presented by GuySuCo for why the new process was needed, however, the union countered that the reasons provided went against the Labour Act.

 “Apart from the very compelling reasons advanced, the Corporation’s thrust runs contrary to the Labour Act which requires at Section 19(1) that wages be paid in money. But apart from that, the Act goes on, at Section 19(4) to mandate employers to pay wages at convenient places near to the workplace. This is noteworthy and the Corporation, we believe, should not ignore this fact nor the workers reasonable positions,” the statement said.

It added that the Union stands with the workers and pensioners, and are calling on GuySuCo “to do what is right and decent and to pay workers at their regular pay offices” as they have been doing for a long time.

“The compulsion and threatening attitude of the GuySuCo will not augur well to improve relations between the workers and the management which has been badly beaten over the last three years,” it said.

 

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