There is little room for argument about severance to retrenched sugar workers

Dear Editor,

Last year the coalition administration continued in the former PPP administration’s footsteps of imposing a basic 5.0 per cent wage increase, disregarding attempts by unions to address their members’ welfare.  The teachers’ union held discussions with the President himself to address their members’ demands.  Instead, they were recruited to work for the government’s education ministry assisting in the ministry’s work of developing the education sector. This tactic by the coalition administration demonstrates its continued disdain for workers’ welfare. Nothing was given in 2016 and a pittance was handed out last year.  This is even as it is recognized that workers’ welfare took a drubbing since the implementation of the economic reform policies of the early 1990s.

I submit that we need to understand the coalition’s socialist mentality of ‘you and us’. ‘Us’ are Guyana’s new bourgeoisie (the capitalist class which owns most of the nation’s wealth and means of production), and ‘you,’ the workers, from whom are extracted the capitalists’ wealth by underpayment for labour services, who, under socialist ideology, will never get their just due.

Just as under the PPP, Guyana’s workers will be hoodwinked every year under some ploy while the socialist elite (primarily senior government functionaries) enjoy the ‘good life’. Guyanese were duped in 2015, and there will be no end to their being fooled, because the wider policies of the coalition administration and the PPP will never deliver economic growth to accommodate tax revenues which will afford public servants their deserved living wage.

For his part, Mr Jagdeo continues to make pretentious remarks about his and the PPP’s concerns for the welfare of sugar workers, when the PPP under his presidency did exactly the same thing while in government. It is common knowledge that sugar workers who were retrenched with the closure of the Diamond sugar estate during the PPP’s term in administration had to seek recourse to the courts to obtain their severance benefits.  If there is anything at all about which Mr Jagdeo and the PPP should be upset about it is that the PNC-led coalition has demonstrated it is much worse a government then they, and this should be a cause for envy.

Both the APNU and the AFC were up in arms against the PPP over its flagrant disregard for Guyana’s laws and regulations governing the decisions in Parliament while in opposition.  Yet today in government, it appears that they are continuing exactly where the PPP left off disregarding our nation’s laws. This in regard to the administration’s wilful

violation of those laws which govern the payments of workers’ severance benefits.

From a moral perspective, the non-payment of severance to many retrenched Wales’ sugar workers and the non-provision of benefits for sugar workers slated to be retrenched in 2017, with the subsequent provision of the initial pittance in the 2018 budget, smacks of the cruel nature and intentions of the PNC-led coalition for sugar workers.  As I have said before, this is something all sections of society should denounce and actively seek to have addressed immediately by the current administration.

Below are sections of our laws which I think define the legal responsibility and liability of GuySuCo, and ultimately the government, regarding payment of severance to retrenched sugar workers.

In respect of termination of employment due to redundancy, Section 12 (2) (b) of the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act (TESA) states that an employer may terminate the services of the employee because the employee has become redundant  due to “the discontinuance by the employer of all or part of the business.”

Defining GuySuCo’s liability for Severance or Redundancy Allowance to retrenched sugar workers, Section 21 (1) of the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act states that, “On termination of his employment, an employee who has completed one or more years of continuous employment with an employer shall be entitled to be paid such severance by such employer a severance or redundancy allowance…”

Defining the terms of notification of retrenchment, Section 15 (1) of the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act further establishes that “Where a contract of employment for an unspecified period of time is being terminated for any reason of redundancy under Section 12, [], such contract of employment shall except during the probationary period, be terminated by the employer upon giving the following minimum period of notice in writing –

“(a)    Two weeks where the employee has been employed by the employer for less than one year;

“(b)   One month, where the employee has been employed by the employer for one year or more.

Finally, in respect to severance payments in lieu of notice, Section 16 (1) reads ‘In lieu of giving notice of termination under section 15 (1) the employer shall pay the employee a sum equal to the remuneration and benefits due to the employee up to the expiry of any required period of notice.”

There therefore seems little room for argument regarding the conditions of retrenchment, terms of notification, and the amount and period of payment of severance to retrenched sugar workers.  The administration should therefore re-examine its position to withhold severance payments to sugar workers any longer, and all workers and the entire country should examine these sections and encourage the coalition to honour its obligations to these workers immediately.

Yours faithfully,

Craig Sylvester

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