A number of sugar workers from Wales and surrounding communities on the East Bank of Demerara this afternoon (Friday, March 17, 2017) stormed out of a meeting hosted by Government Ministers at the Community Centre, Patentia.
A team comprising Government Ministers, Noel Holder, Cathy Hughes, Khemraj Ramjattan and Joseph Harmon on Friday met with workers from the Wales Sugar Estate. The Estate was closed at the end of 2016 even after several protests, some of which continue to this day.
The meeting was meant to discuss ‘the New GuySuCo’, Government’s Divestment Plan, severance payment, and other issues.
The workers raised concerns about the lack of consultation before the closure of the estate, the effect it has on the community and issues being faced with travelling to the Uitvlugt estate for work.
“One body like you never come and sit pon wan chair hay, in all these months,” one worker said.
Minister of Telecommunications, Cathy Hughes told the gathering that the problems which exist now “exist with GuySuCo 5 years ago and we are trying to solve it. No one solved it five years ago,” after some of the workers led by a representative from the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) continued to disrupt the meeting. The workers eventually left the meeting afterwhich order was restored.
Minister Ramjattan used the opportunity to highlight that consultations were hosted with the Unions, Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) along with the Opposition.
“A lot of people think that we will just make decisions and close down and do all kinds of things, you know that we call in NAACIE, GAWU, the PPP and we’ve had a consultation. We’ve asked them (proposals), a lot of people feel that we done close down this thing, that’s not going to happen, not with people like me who know about this sugar and grow up with it, but please understand that we got some huge problems with financing it,” Ramjattan told the workers.
The Government met twice with the Opposition and the Unions to review and consider proposals concerning the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).The last meeting was hosted early in February, after which the Government said it would ultimately have to make a decision on the way forward for the industry since the opposition failed to prepare their proposals. The Opposition, on the other hand, called for a socio-economic study into GuySuCo.
Some sugar workers raised concerns with their severance pay.
The Ministers later delivered finalised severance pay cheques to some 389 employees. According to the Government Information Agency, these are workers who were noted to be redundant and employed by the Wales sugar estate.
Minister Holder explained that 1118 workers attached to the Wales estate stand to be affected by the transition process. However, 675 persons are to remain employed with the estate, 374 of whom are required to complement cane harvesting at Uitvlugt estate.
“Sadly, many of these persons have been misled to take severance rather than take up employment at Uitvlugt estate. Not going to Uitvlugt would put Uitvlugt’s survival at serious risk. Fifty-four ( 54) have been transferred to other estates and unfortunately, 389 persons have been made redundant,” Minister Holder said.
The final redundancy cheques were to be issued this afternoon, Minister Holder said.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo had announced in December that almost 100 workers at the Guyana Sugar Corporation’s (Guysuco) Wales Estate received $80.1M in severance pay. The severance pay issued to date is said to be more than $300M.
At the meeting today, other sugar workers raised issues about the distance to travel to the Uitvlugt estate on the West Coast of Demerara to work. However, Minister Ramjattan reiterated that transportation has been made available for all staff reassigned to work at Uitvlugt.
Minister Holder told residents that “an important part of our strategy to make our people more resilient and independent is to lease land to employees to transition them into becoming farmers, to be more in control of your destiny, to give you a greater stake in the wealth to be generated in the community.”
Residents lobbied for better facilities for youths and expanded agricultural activities in the area. They suggested that lands reclaimed by the Government from GuySuCo could be leased for these and other purposes.
Meanwhile, others raised questions about support for and assistance in identifying and maintaining markets if they were to venture into subsistence farming.