The Wales cane-cutters’ picket was to call on government to pay their severance

Dear Editor,

Yesterday (February 21), scores of cane-cutters of Wales Estate which has been closed for fourteen months took part in a picketing exercise outside of the Ministry of the Presidency and the Ministry of Agriculture. The workers are calling on the government and the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) to respect the provisions of the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act (TESPA). The approximately 350 workers remain the only group of redundant sugar workers who have been denied their severance payments though the law, from all appearances, says they are entitled to it.

The workers recently wrote President David Granger seeking his intervention to have the corporation settling its legitimate obligations to them. This is the second time in recent months that the workers have written to President Granger. The President in his initial response had committed that Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder would examine their matter and they would hear from him. Several months went by and the workers having not heard from Minister Holder decided to write the President once again. So far the President has yet to respond to the workers second item of correspondence though he is known for responding in a timely manner. The workers remain hopeful that they would hear positively from President Granger, especially in view of the severe challenges they have faced and are facing since the estate closed at the end of 2016.

The workers are also aware, through press reports, that Minister Holder expressed the view that the matter should be determined by the judiciary. This course, the workers contend, is needless especially given the lack of ambiguity in the relevant legislation. The workers see the Minister’s expression as trampling on their rights and a means to deny them what they are rightly entitled to. The GAWU believes it is still not too late for the Minister to right the wrong. We urge, as we did before, that the Minister should have knowledgeable, credible and unbiased persons carefully examine the matter. Such an examination, we believe, would be useful and demonstrate the justness in the workers call.

The workers are also disturbed that GuySuCo CEO (ag) Paul Bhim is reported in the press as saying that should the workers fail to report to Uitvlugt Estate, though it is beyond the lawful radius set out in the Act, they would have been deemed as self-terminated. The workers were very upset having learnt of Mr Bhim’s comments and see it as another ploy to pressure them to take up work at Uitvlugt even though there isn’t sufficient work for them and the cane-cutting workforce of that estate.

The situation at Wales is steadily deteriorating and the people and communities are facing trying and difficult times. The workers and the GAWU recall that the government and GuySuCo, in glowing terms, spoke about the plan to make Wales the launch pad for non-sugar diversification. Though we warned about the dismaying results the corporation realized during its last foray, the administration and the corporation pressed ahead. Today, we see that those plans have been abandoned, and the short-lived seed paddy fields that were cultivated are being slowly overrun by bush and vines, according to the February 18, 2018 Guyana Times. And the people remain the hapless victims. Worse yet, the possibilities of resuming sugar production at Wales remain challenging as many important factory components have been removed and were installed in other estates. It is recalled that GuySuCo in announcing Wales’ closure had said that the factory was old but yet many of these components were installed in other factories and performed well.

Today a large void has been left at the communities that were linked with the now closed estate. For many of the hundreds who were employed they remain jobless and those who secure jobs, generally on a temporary basis, find their earnings far less than what they earned when they worked at Wales. The future for the people, especially the youth, is not encouraging. It is difficult to imagine the hardships that would befall the people in the weeks and months that lie ahead. Many wonder every day if this is the ‘Good Life’ they were promised. The government, as the protector of the people, needs to provide appropriate financial support to allow the people to face up to these challenges and to overcome the difficulties brought about by the sad and wrong decision to close Wales Estate.

Yours faithfully,

Seepaul Narine

General Secretary

GAWU

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