…Sugar workers, PSC hail $2B severance payout
PRESIDENT David Granger’s announcement that $2B in severance will be paid out to the affected sugar workers by the end of January has been greeted with great joy in the sugar belt and the Private Sector Commission has hailed the decision as a step in the right direction, signalling that this will be a “big help” to the families.
Hours after Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo made the announcement on behalf of the President in the National Assembly on Wednesday, sugar workers who spoke to the Guyana Chronicle though expressing disappointment that the full payment will not be made at once, said they are thankful that by the end of this month, they will receive 50 per cent of their severance package.
Abdullah Rahaman Majeed, 55, of Welfare Street, Canje, said he is pleased that finally they will be paid their severance, but said it would have been better if they had received all at once. “It’s a great relief. It is better than nothing, but I would have preferred to get the lump sum of cash so that I can invest into something that will be able to sustain my livelihood,” he told this newspaper. Majeed was employed at the Rose Hall Estate as a labourer for the past 35 years and has big plans for the money.
Fifty-year-old Lilowattie Budhai, who had worked as a cook at the Rose Hall Estate for the past eight years, said the announcement brings a sense of relief to the affected sugar workers. But like Majeed, the Coburg Street, Cumberland woman said they should have been paid their benefits all at once. “I only work eight years with the estate so meh ain’t get plenty money to collect and only half meh gon collect won’t do much. I have a sick husband to take care of and me jobless,” she told this newspaper. Since being laid off,
Budhai has been in search of a job. Budhai remains hopeful that her severance would keep her afloat until she secures a job. Forty-year-old Stephen Alexander Phillips, a cane harvester for 13 years, said since he received his redundancy letter, he has been relying on his savings to offset daily expenses including sending three of his four children to school. The Number 63 Village resident added that government’s announcement has brought a sense of relief. “I feel real good to hear this news. I am hoping the money I will be collecting will be enough to maintain until they can find us [sugar workers] another job,” Phillips told this newspaper.
The cane harvester said he has no problem collecting half of the money now and rest later, but government must keep the promise to pay the remainder. Phillips is encouraging other workers to be patient and make use of whatever they have until are in a better position. He was employed at the Skeldon Estate.
Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) Edward Boyer told the Guyana Chronicle that the $2B payout will be a “big help” to the more than 4000 sugar workers whose jobs became redundant by the closure of the Wales, Rose Hall and Skeldon Sugar Estates. “It
would more or less cushion the blow which we thought was a wait and see,” Boyer said, while noting that it is a “good start to the right direction.” With focus on the agriculture sector, Boyer said an array of jobs should be created for the affected, even as emphasis is placed on training and the facilitation of job fairs. While government has its part to play in creating opportunities for the affected workers, so too does the private sector, the Chairman said. “The PSC, we will definitely help,” he assured this newspaper.
Working People’s Alliance executive, Dr. David Hinds, like Boyer, welcomed the announcement, stating too that it is a step in the right direction. “The President’s announcement that they [the sugar workers] would be paid half of their severance by the end of the month and the remainder by the end of the year is a step in the right direction,” Dr. Hinds told the Guyana Chronicle. “While I support the government’s move to restructure the sugar industry, I felt that dismissing workers without a prior plan to
relocate or compensate them was wrong-headed. At the end of the day, workers and their families must be protected at all cost–they should not be the victims of the restructuring,” the political activist stated. He is of the belief that the government erred by not making the payments earlier, but nonetheless should be commended for hearing the cries of the workers and others and acting. “Governments make mistakes, but responsible governments recognise their mistakes and move to correct them. This represents a belated victory for sugar workers and the working people in general,” Dr Hinds stated. “The lesson for the government here is that it has to be much more careful when it comes to the security of the poor and working people. Macroeconomic decisions must be balanced and informed by micro-economic considerations,” Dr. Hinds added.
In responding to the announcement, the National Front Alliance (NFA), in a statement, said the decision to help “retrenched” sugar workers is further proof of the coalition being a “caring government.”
In a brief statement, the Front said that it welcomes the offer of over $2B to pay half of redundancy benefits by month-end and the remainder later in the year. The NFA is a junior partner in the coalition government, in which its leader Keith Scott is a minister with responsibility for labour.
Chairman of the ailing Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), Dr. Clive Thomas, said it was the corporation’s expectation that by the end of January, the redundant workers would have been paid their severance in full. “That was GuySuCo’s intention,” he told the Guyana Chronicle. However, he opined that government may have encountered financial problems. Another theory put forth by Dr. Thomas is that government may be staggering the funds until new jobs are created. He explained that there are approximately 4000 sugar workers to be paid a total of $5B, an on average, more than $1M will be paid to each of the affected. However, Dr. Thomas said: “Ideally, if we have all the money, we would have made the all payment right away.”
Government in breach
Meanwhile, veteran Trade Unionist Lincoln Lewis and the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has criticised government over the decision to make only 50 per cent of the
payment by the end of January. Lewis contended that “Government is in breach of all the principles, practices and the law, they must do better.” He said it must be made clear that this is not a retrenchment. “This is an issue where people’s jobs have been made redundant. Retrenchment and Redundancy are two different things. Their jobs have been made redundant; the jobs will not be there in the future. You have parted company with the workers permanently. They should have been paid in a lump sum at one time,” Lewis told this newspaper. He noted that the decision to close the estates were made effective although arrangements had been put in place to pay the workers their redundancy benefits – a situation that should have never happened.
Former Minister of Agriculture and PPP Member Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, in a statement, argued that government’s decision is in “total breach of the law.” “The Minister with responsibility for Labour, Keith Scott, must know that this announcement means that
APNU+AFC stands indicted as breaching the labour laws of Guyana. He said workers had been promised their severance by the end of this month. “The severance payment to the terminated sugar workers is not an option for GUYSUCO and APNU+AFC. It is a legal requirement. The payments are due immediately, not in accordance with a timetable established by the government,” the former Agriculture Minister said