$2 billion severance now, $2 billion later for sugar workers
Sugar workers will get half of their severance pay by the end of the month, President David Granger announced on Wednesday, January 10, 2018
He said the 50% payment will add up to $2 billion and the other 50% will be made available within the next six months.
Added to this, the President also announced that the government had earmarked $100 million to provide small loans “for entrepreneurial activities which could open opportunities for employment after leaving the sugar industry.”
The President said the payment of the severance, the delay of which has already seen protests, will be shaved off the budgets of various sectors.
He stated that the government has “embarked on an extensive review of expenditure in every sector to the extent of reducing ministerial budgets in order to find funds to enable sugar workers to receive their severance pay.”
It was not expected that the government would be scraping from other budgets to pay severance to the estimated 4, 000 sugar workers who were sent home.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon and Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder had both categorically told the News Room that the severance pay would have been met from the 2018 Budget. But sources within the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) had said that the budgetary provisions for GuySuCo in the budget, namely $6.8 billion, was meant to keep operations going at the four estates that are being kept in operation.
And so the money would have had to come from somewhere else. The President said that the Government would go looking for the money from other programmes because it was “committed to the welfare of sugar workers and their families.”
Granger noted that the GuySuCo has been in a state of crisis for over 25 years and that the Government has acted resolutely and responsibly to protect the livelihood of workers, to preserve the viability of rural communities and prevent the further financial depletion of the country’s treasury.
Since 2011, he said over $48 billion had been expended on financial support to the industry. In the past thirty months alone he said GUySuCo was given $32 billion.
“This Government cannot sustain the sugar industry in its current state. It has had to make difficult choices in order to ensure the industry’s viability,” Granger stated.
Those decisions included shutting down four estates and keeping three running. The assets of those estates have now been handed over to NICIL, the country’s asset holding company.
Estates at Albion, Blairmont, Uitvlugt will be kept running with the aim of producing 147,000 tonnes annually. The President said too that GuySuCo is working actively to ameliorate the impact of retrenchment on workers’ livelihood.
According to the President, GuySuCo has established an Alternative Livelihood Programme (ALP), aimed at providing support by enabling displaced employees to access available opportunities to function in other fields.
He said too that GUySuCo has embarked on the training of employees to work in new operational fields across the industry in places such as the field workshop and providing services.
The President said that GuySuCo has engaged 500 employees from the West and East Demerara Estates with over 100 of them signalling their willingness to be retrained – in fields such as carpentry, masonry, plumbing, mechanical and electrical works and in small business enterprises.
According to Granger, the Government will continue to engage stakeholders, the Guyana Sugar Corporation, Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees and the workers.
“The Government is cognizant of the invaluable contribution of the sugar industry to the development of Guyana.
“The Government will continue to work towards returning the reformed sugar industry to profitability and improving the personal income of sugar workers while seeking to provide a good life for current and future generations,” the President stated.