Gov’t ‘callous’ with sugar workers – GTUC

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The government has treated the welfare of sugar workers in a “callous” manner, the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) said, blasting the government for not giving them severance pay immediately after they were made redundant.

“Severance should have been paid at time of termination, so these workers can move on with their lives,” the GTUC stated.

The Congress expressed worry that the government had not made provisions in the budget to cover severance for all workers.

“GTUC sees this is a worrying sign and intensification of the Government’s attacks on workers’ rights, across the board,” the GTUC declared in a statement Saturday night.

An estimated 4, 000 sugar works from four sugar estates were sent home on December 29, 2017 by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).

President David Granger announced Wednesday that they would get half of their severance by the end of this month and the other half within six months.

“The failure of GuySuCo, the employer, in paying the workers their prescribed benefit, at least at the pay day immediately following their date of termination, speaks to callous approach in treating with workers’ welfare,” the GTUC stated.

The GTUC noted that sugar workers from the Diamond, East Bank Demerara estate faced a similar situation in 2010 when Khemraj Ramjattan, then an Attorney and now Vice President, took the matter to court and forced the then Bharrat Jagdeo government to intervene and had GuySuCo pay the workers.

“In 2018, though the political tables have turned, behaviour has not changed,” the GTUC declared, noting that the promised method of payment announced by the President is “not good enough.”

On Friday last, Minister of State Joseph Harmon indicated that the government underestimated the cost by some $3.5 billion but said workers will get their “entitlement under the law.”

He said that the severance pay was catered for in the $6.3 billion subvention for the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) this year, but of that amount, just over $500 million, was designated for severance pay.

The GTUC stated that the fact that no budgetary allocation was made to cover the severance pay pointed to the “premium has been placed on the concerns of the workers.”

According to the GTUC, severance payment is earned consistent with the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act.

“When relationship is severed between an employer and employee, industrial relations practice dictates that the employee hands over to the employer all properties of the employer. Likewise, the employer has corresponding responsibility to hand over forthwith all monies accrued and owing to the employee,” the GTUC stated.

The Congress noted that were the sugar workers in the private sector, the Labour Department would have demanded they be paid or face legal action.

The GTUC said the amount of workers being laid off requires a plan to cushion the socio-economic impact to them, and the institutions and communities that rely on their income.

“Various pronouncements as to the number being affected or are being placed in alternative jobs, and in cases being transferred to state agencies is being questioned. A major reason for this is that the sugar unions seem unaware which continues to point to the problem of the absence of engagement and involvement by the workers’ representative in their welfare,” the GTUC noted.

“The debacle of the sugar industry is heavily attributed to the arrogance and belief by politicians that they have all the answers to every problem, and how they feel about issues is the only thing that matters. Continual refusal to engage with all stakeholders not only to inform but garner feedback in addressing the dilemma will breed bad blood and rend the nation further asunder,” the GTUC highlighted.

It added: “There is no denial tough decisions have to be made but sobriety and integrity must inform discourse, planning and actions, taking into consideration fundamental rights, micro and macro impacts.

As such, the body said it feels it is not too late for Government and GuySuCo to rethink the strategy being presently employed and sit with the sugar unions, political opposition and other stakeholders to hammer out decisions on the way forward.

The government estimates that the three estates that will be left in operation will produce the 147, 000 tonnes of sugar needed to meet local and overseas markets.

The government decided to close the sugar estates, saying it could not continue to bail out the industry; they have been subsidising the industry with $1 billion every month for the past two and half years.

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