The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) has taken note of an article in the January 23, 2018 Guyana Times titled `Sugar workers call for Komal Chand to resign’. From the comments published we recognized that there is some amount of misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding the outcome of our Union’s January 19, 2018 meeting with the Government.
The article posits that our Union agreed with the Government to partially settle some 4,000-odd workers’ severance payments. This is completely and utterly fallacious. When the matter was raised by the Government both GAWU and NAACIE reiterated that severance payments should be settled in full to all workers at once as is set out in the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act (TESPA). It would not only be cynical, but utterly foolish, for us to do otherwise. But further than that we disagreed with the Finance Minister’s arguments that should the full payment be made it would fuel inflation and result in the depreciation of the Guyana Dollar. We also pointed out to the Government’s delegation that the workers had an expectation to receive their payments and which expectations were fortified by the public comments of the Agriculture Minister, among others.
Certainly, had we reached such an agreement, both the GAWU and the Government would have undoubtedly made such an announcement in our respective media statements. Even the Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan speaking in the National Assembly on January 19, 2018 with respect to the supplementary paper informed the House that GAWU and NAACIE did not agree to the partial settlement of the severance payment to the redundant sugar workers. It is disappointing that despite this wide body of evidence and knowing of GAWU’s consistent view on this matter that some persons have chosen to engage in a campaign of misinformation.
The article also says “GAWU should have been fighting for estates to remain open”. We find this statement strange as all and sundry have known about the sustained battle we have waged in the streets, in the media, even in the Judiciary to see that the estates remain open. Even after the closure at the end of 2017 our Union maintained that the estates should be re-opened. This is a matter we also reiterated to the Government during our meeting. Again, we must say the proof is in the pudding.
The article goes on to charge that the Union’s President “presided over the firing of thousands of workers”. This statement is unbelievable and clearly distorted. It is incredulous to make such an assertion and makes one wonder about the real motivation and purpose of such a distortion. At no time was the GAWU involved in firing any worker. Our involvement was limited to the procedure outlined by TESPA, something we were forced to take GuySuCo to Court on, whereby a union representative was present at engagements between GuySuCo and the identified redundant workers. During that process GuySuCo explained its obligations to each redundant worker and verified their years of service among other critical information. That was the beginning and end of our involvement, which was congruent with the provisions of TESPA.
Those who chose to level such inaccurate remarks at our Union and its leaders maybe are unaware of our organisation’s modus operandi. Certainly, had they been aware they would have known that GAWU has a position that the workers must be involved and are consulted. The Union’s Executive Committee and General Council are kept abreast and these bodies would consider and approve decisions regarding the GAWU’s approach and tactics. In fact our Union had a nine-person delegation engaging the Government. That delegation included workers from the now closed sugar estates. Despite the disparaging remarks, the GAWU is proud of the struggle we have waged and will continue to wage in defence of the workers’ rights and livelihood.
General Secretary GAWU