Scores of former Wales Estate sugar workers gathered yesterday in front of the old factory bearing broad smiles in anticipation of collecting severance payments that had been withheld from them for two years.
Some said they are going to use the money to invest in businesses and others said they will use it to support their households.
The workers’ employment was terminated on December 31st, 2016 but having not been paid their severance at the point of being made redundant, they took the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) to court. On Wednesday, High Court Judge Sandil Kissoon ordered that the over 300 ex-workers receive their paymnets along with the interest owed to them.
While waiting for their payments, the workers have been involved in multiple picket actions across their country, demanding to be paid.
Deonauth Ramkumar, who worked on the estate for 10 years, told Stabroek News yesterday that while he and other former workers have been waiting “long, long” for what was owed to them, they felt good yesterday. The man was standing amongst a group of friends who also showed up for their payments. The ex-workers gathered outside the now closed Wales Estate where they mingled with their former co-workers, smiling, laughing and catching up on old times.
Some of them have not seen each other since they were made redundant and were not only happy to be able to receive their payments after a long wait, but to also see old faces that they “struggled with,” Ramkumar said.
Unlike others, Ramkumar was able to find another job after being retrenched. However, he explained that the money will greatly assist him, especially since Christmas Day is less than three weeks away.
“Since being laid off, I go about the place and I find a job that I got right now and I carry on, you know. But I planning on spending the money for Christmas, so is a good, good thing we getting it before Christmas. I working too, so I planning on doing some other things with it like try to invest it properly,” he said.
Another worker, Moses (only name given), who has given 25 years of service to the Estate as a harvester, also expressed similar sentiments.
“Me is a businessman now. I does sell pork and meat at the market and now I could invest in the business to make it bigger and brighter and the money come in at the right time,” he said.
‘The right, right time’
While some have been able to find other means of earning an income, others have not, and according to one of the workers, who did not want to be named, “the money come at the right, right time.”
“I spend 25 years as a cane harvester and I de good. Me hear certain things pass and they gon pay we but we wait a long, long, long time to get this money. Every time we went to picket for this money you hearing this week, next week and so on but we finally get it. Christmas is 18 days away and I feel nice. What me got to do is some work on me home and I gon put the rest in the bank. I’m not a type of person to go smoke and drink and so I got to put it to good use and put up the rest just in case,” the man said. He disclosed that he has not had any consistent employment since being laid off, although he has managed odd jobs around his community.
Despite spending two years picketing and taking other action for their payments, the man explained that he had no doubt that the government would have eventually paid them their money and that the timing could not have been better.
Vaughn Sparman and Sherwin Alleyne also said that they were elated to finally receive their money. Sparman said that the money is going to assist him with completing his house – something he had put on hold since being retrenched – and he will use the remainder to expand his income. Alleyne said that he is mulling investing the money in a business to support his family.
The order made by Justice Kissoon on Wednesday 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.
The payments will continue and slated to conclude today.