The government severance payment arrangements to sugar workers are a breach of the law

Dear Editor,

Having been exposed again that they had no intention of paying the more than 4000 sugar workers who were terminated their legally guaranteed severance this month as promised, President Granger had the self-proclaimed ‘champion’ of the sugar workers read a message in Parliament that APNU+AFC will provide a 50% severance payment by the end of the month. The announcement comes with another promise that the remaining 50% will be provided in six-months’ time. This is a total breach of the law and in no way a reflection of the generosity of the government, as they want people to think.

The Minister with responsibility for Labour, Keith Scott, must know that this announcement means that APNU+AFC stands indicted as breaching the labour laws of Guyana. He must act in defence of the workers.  An illegality is openly being committed against the workers of Guyana by their own government.

The Minister of Agriculture had promised that the sugar workers whose jobs were taken away by APNU+AFC would be paid their severance before the end of January. The sugar workers themselves doubted that he was speaking the truth. Many of us believed that the sugar workers had reasonable doubts that APNU+AFC had any intention of keeping that promise and we raised our voices. In an article earlier this week I expressed my doubt that APNU+AFC had any intention to stand by the Minister’s promise. Now Moses Nagamootoo in Parliament yesterday afternoon has confirmed that the Minister of Agriculture was not telling workers the truth and that, indeed, APNU+AFC had no intention of keeping their promise. In his pompous style, the PM presented his confirmation in such a way that he and APNU+AFC were doing a favour to the workers, by turning the broken promise into a kind of half-truth.

This is nothing but utter shamelessness, an absolute disgrace and another callous, cruel betrayal of the sugar workers. The terminations of the sugar workers were done suddenly and without any consultation with the unions or with the workers themselves. The severance payment to the terminated sugar workers is not an option for GuySuCo and APNU+AFC. It is a legal requirement. The payments are due immediately, not in accordance with a timetable established by the government. To first promise the sugar workers that they would be paid in January and then announce that Budget 2018 did not cater for such payments is an insult to the workers, but as said earlier, also a breach of the labour laws of Guyana.

Hopefully, the 50% payment being promised now is not another empty promise announced only to buy more time and avoid the enormous pressure from the workers and their families and from decent Guyanese. Personally, I will not believe that APNU+AFC will honour this promise until it actually takes place. The problem sugar workers face is there is no way they can survive on this 50% payment and there is no way they can be confident that the other 50% will ever be paid. There are still sugar workers from Wales Estate who lost their jobs and are still awaiting their severance payments, more than a year after.

The boast that APNU+AFC is providing $100M for loans to sugar workers is even more shameful. With the loss of almost 6000 jobs since January 2017 and more to come in the coming months, this means that APNU+AFC is making available a paltry $20,000 per worker as a loan, a measly sum that the worker will need to repay to the government. Mr Nagamootoo should have been ashamed to read that statement. Did he not ask why the statement could not have been issued directly from the Office of the President? He was chosen to read the statement because both the President and the Ministry of the Presidency know the hypocrisy and shamelessness of the announcement.

Place the $100M loan promise in perspective with other recent actions of the government. They did not have to scrape to give a $68M handout to an organization linked to APNU. Budget 2018 provides for $68M to be given as a grant to this organization through the Office of the President. In the meanwhile, the government will spend close to $100M to pay two lawyers from Barbados to represent the AG in court in the challenge to the appointment of the Gecom Chair. The Ministers will spend more than $100M in entertainment payments in 2018.

Having terminated the sugar workers, they must pay the full severance now. The payment is due upon termination and that is not negotiable. The workers are now owed interest on this payment. The self-proclaimed ‘Champions of the Sugar Workers’, Moses Nagamootoo and Khemraj Ramjattan and their fellow MP from Region 6, Charandass, must go and face the sugar workers and explain why they have allowed themselves to become the hatchet men in this ultimate betrayal of the workers. Mr Nagamootoo did not appreciate that he publicly and arrogantly in the hallowed chambers of our Parliament confirmed APNU+AFC intends to break the laws of Guyana.

Yours faithfully, 

Leslie Ramsammy    


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