Gov’t to honour promise to complete severance payments to sugar workers

- Harmon

In keeping with the government’s commitment to complete severance payments to all retrenched sugar workers, Minister of State Joseph Harmon yesterday said the final amounts will be paid off in the second half of the year.

“Cabinet discussed payment of the second tranche of severance to the sugar workers and iterated its commitment to honouring the agreement to make the remaining severance payment within the time it promised,” he said during a post-Cabinet press briefing.

Government had said that the severance to over 4,000 retrench 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 first payment, the government had 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 drawn criticism.

Harmon, when asked where the money to complete severance payments was coming from, reminded that ministries were asked to decrease their spending.

“Several ministries were asked to do a cut back on their budgetary allocations and we anticipated that all of the money will come from that process. Half of it has already been paid and the second tranche will come directly from government sources and will be paid in the second half of the year,” he said.

The minister pointed out that he is aware that a matter has been filed in the court asking for a determination that these monies are owed, when in fact the government has acknowledged that. He called the filing of that court matter as an “abuse of the court system,” while stressing that government is committed to paying the remaining severance in the second half of the year.

In a High Court application filed by a team of lawyers headed by attorney Anil Nandlall, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) is asking for the full severance and all other monies owed to be paid.

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, Rose Hall and the East Demerara Sugar Estates, who were rendered redundant in accordance with the provisions of the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act, 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.

Harmon yesterday explained that while GuySuCo is responsible for paying the retrenched workers, government as the major stakeholder in the company had stepped forward since the money needed is not available.

“The major shareholder in GuySuCo is government, so whether it is GuySuCo owe them and GuySuCo doesn’t have the funds to pay, government will have to step in and that is what is taking place,” he said.

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.

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