Court rules that over 300 former Wales workers be paid severance with interest

Workers from the Wales Sugar Estate during a picketing exercise for their severance payments earlier this year

Two years after being laid off, the over 300 ex-workers from the Wales Sugar Estate are set to receive the more than $86M in severance together with interest owed to them by the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo).

This order was made during an in-chamber hearing yesterday afternoon before High Court judge Sandil Kissoon.

Following the hearing, attorney Nikhil Ramkarran for GuySuCo against which the action was filed explained to reporters that the workers will be paid severance covering the period 31st December, 2016 to yesterday’s date at a rate of 4% per annum.

Meanwhile, he said that the workers who had taken up government’s offer of employment at the Uitvlugt Estate would also be paid severance up to yesterday’s date, but together with a month’s payment in lieu of notice.

The severance for those workers he explained, would run from their respective commencement dates of employment at Uitvlugt to yesterday’s date when the court order was made.

This was confirmed by Pauline Chase—counsel for the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) by whom the action was filed on behalf of the workers.

She said that a total of 345 workers are to benefit, which includes those who would have also taken up employment at Uitvlugt.

Chase said that this essentially brings the matter to an end, unless GuySuCo does not honour its financial obligations to the workers, though counsel expressed confidence that the payments will be made.

She said that $86,545,987 will be paid in severance at an interest rate of 4% per annum. The lawyer explained, however, that that figure does not include for the persons who were laid off from Wales and now work at Uitvlugt.

When asked, both Ramkarran and Chase clarified that indeed more than 345 workers from Wales had been made redundant but explained that some had to be taken off the list as they had been found not to be entitled.

Chase added too, that some have since died while others no longer reside in the country and so no verification could be made with regards to those persons.

She made it clear, however, that if those persons for whatever reasons do come forward, then they can accordingly make their claims, but noted that the union can only ensure payments to those whom it can verify. 

Having not been paid their severance at the point of being made redundant, the workers had taken the state-owned GuySuCo to court, arguing essentially that their severance packages ought to have been made available at the point of being made redundant in accordance with the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act (TESPA).

While the government had offered them employment at the Uitvlugt Estate, the union had argued that under TESPA the workers were entitled to severance as the offer of positions at the Uitvlugt Sugar Estate breach-ed provisions of the severance law.

The order made by Justice Kissoon yesterday follows a similar one made by Justice Fidela Corbin-Lincoln in late October for the payment of the remaining severance to 2,198 laid off sugar workers from the Skeldon, Rose Hall and East Demerara sugar estates.

On October 24th, the National Assembly authorised government to spend over $2 billion in supplementary funds for the payment of severance to redundant sugar workers from all the affected estates.

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