Ex-sugar workers find holiday cheer with final severance pay-out

Former East Demerara Estate workers anxiously awaiting their severance payments at the Enmore Community Centre. (Department of Public Information photo)

The payment of the remaining 50% of severance to ex-sugar workers, which commenced around the country on Thursday, will help to ensure a “merry Christmas,” some proclaimed yesterday after receiving their cheques.

In October, the National Assembly approved over $2 billion in supplementary funds for the payment of the remaining severance to over 2,000 sugar workers who were laid off by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).

According to GuySuCo, payments to the 2,201 ex-workers began on Thursday morning. They had been paid the first half of their severance earlier this year. When Stabroek News visited Enmore, East Coast Demerara yesterday, workers from the East Demerara Estate were collecting their cheques at the Enmore Community Centre. From as early as 9 am, workers slowly trickled into the community centre and about ten minutes after, left with broad smiles on their faces.

“Everything good so far. I ain’t get no problem with them and it rotate the way it supposed to ’cause as soon as I go in there, they ain’t had no crowd or anything. I get through quick,” Joseph Murphy, who spent 22 years as a cane harvester with the sugar company, said.

Murphy related that he was extremely happy that he was finally able to receive the other half of the payment, considering that Christmas and other holidays that fall during the season are less than a month away.

“The money will assist in a good way. Know how much people glad for the final pay because some people nah see Christmas yet. It will make Christmas for a lot of people cause some people nah get nothing to eat at all sometimes. It got some people when the day come, they got nothing strong to eat and their children not going to school,” he explained.

Since being retrenched, Murphy has started his own business and is currently engaged in poultry rearing and construction.

“I’ve been doing construction work and it’s very good cause the money is going to carry me a far way because it going back into me business, my own employment mining meat birds, farming and in between the lil construction work,” Murphy explained. He said that since he has been working by himself, he has been happier and the money he received will now assist him in growing his business.

When questioned about whether his transition from working with GuySuCo for more than two decades to working on his own was difficult, he said no, before adding that he wished he had decided to leave a long time ago and start his own business.  “My own is better ’cause I able to grow more businesswise and life become a bit more easy. I sorry I didn’t leave GuySuCo long. Now you don’t have to wake up early and fight to get truck and fight up to go work,” he added.

‘By God’s grace’

Another ex-cane harvester, Harold Lucius, who also gave the sugar company more than 20 decades of work, also collected his remaining payment yesterday. He said that he will be investing it in a small shop that he has started.

“I just struggling and going by God’s grace. It [the money] gon help me through because I get a small shop that does give me lil income and I putting it deh, let it grow there because if I sell $500, I accept. I know before the month it gon build up, I gon stock back up, eat and I gone again,” the man said.

However, for 33-year-old Rohit Goolchan, who spent 15 years at GuySuCo, first working as a Junior Bookkeeper and then a Senior Bookkeeper, his remaining pay will go towards improving his home, which he said needs a lot of work.

“In the first place, it’s not good that it closed but at least you can do something with the little you collect. I get another job and it has been different and strange but you have to adapt… There’s a lot of things that need to be done at home so I trust that it will go a long way,” he said.

Another ex-worker, Matthew (only name given), who spent more than a quarter of a century at GuySuCo, said he was also pleased to finally receive the money.

“At least so far it better than nothing ’cause nobody not giving you anything and it was long enough. At least now you can relax and think about how you gon spend it with the Christmas coming up,” he said.

For other workers who have not been able to find a job since being laid off, the money will be a “saving grace.” “All day you at home sitting waiting to see when they gon pay you the money ’cause you see they get it from Parliament and you just waiting and waiting. I just glad that it come before the Christmas ’cause I don’t know what I would’ve done for me family and it woulda be a brown Christmas,” one former worker related.

In total, 4,283 workers were laid off from the Skeldon, Rose Hall and East Demerara sugar estates.

By law, the severance payment should have been made at the time of termination of employment and the failure of both GuySuCo and the government to comply with the provision attracted sharp criticism.

The National Assembly had previously approved $1.931 billion for severance payments, which along with $500 million that had been allocated in the 2018 national budget facilitated a total pay-out of $2.431 billion in January.

At that time, Minister of Finance Winston Jordan had said that this sum would facilitate full severance by the end of January for a little more than 1,600 of the 4,763 sugar workers who had been made redundant by GuySuCo as part of its restructuring programme.

This represented those sent home by GuySuCo, who were entitled to severance pay-outs of $500,000 or less. The other workers received 50% of their severance, with a promise that the remaining sums would be paid in the second half of the year.

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