Even as sugar workers braved the sun outside of the Parliament Building to protest the non-payment of their severance, Finance Minister, Winston Jordan tabled a sum of $2.451B to be paid to the workers.
The amount is said to represent the final sum to be paid in severance.
This sum however, according to Opposition Chief Whip of the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C), Gail Teixeira does not cater for the payment of the dismissed Wales Sugar workers.
As such, the opposition tabled a motion to be heard in Parliament to debate the sum, a motion which was denied by the speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland.
The motion penned by Teixeira said in part “I am seeking under Standing Order No 112 to suspend Standing Order No 78 (1) (c) and Standing Order No 76 (8) to allow for a debate on this October 18 on one subhead exclusively on this Financial Paper under the Ministry of Agriculture which is appropriating funds for the payment of severance to sugar worker”.
In January of this year Government had announced that redundant sugar estate workers whose severance payments are $500,000 and less will be paid in full by the end of January 2018, while workers receiving in excess of the aforementioned sum would attain 50 per cent of their severance benefits by the end of January and the other 50 per cent at the end of 2018.
The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) which is the legitimate trade union for the sugar workers had filed court proceedings against the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) and the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), to which GuySuCo has transferred all of its assets to get them to pay the workers their outstanding severance.
GAWU contended that it is illegal for Government to pay the severance in two tranches as this is against the letter and spirit of what is outlined by Section 21 of the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay (TESPA) Act.
It was outlined that the 7000 redundant workers were to receive their redundancy allowance/severance payment no later than December 29, 2017.
Following this development, Canada’s largest Private Sector trade union, Unifor, had in September of this year, during a conference dubbed ‘sugar too big to fail’, expressed deep concerns over Government’s handling of the sugar industry, particularly when it comes to ensuring that dismissed sugar workers are given their severance package in full.
Director for Human Rights and International Department at Unifor, Mohamad Alsadi, had said at the forum “I have never seen a Government that does something as little as taking someone’s severance, especially after losing their jobs. So, for us, this is a big issue. I mean if this was in Canada, I can assure that they could have gone to jail. It’s serious stuff. So, the Government needs to take this seriously.”
In addition to GAWU, the Opposition had long called for Government to honour its obligation and pay over the full severance payments.
Since the closure of the estates the Government has been heavily criticised for not having a clear direction to steer the terminated workers or the industry.
In fact, many observers had called for the Administration to conduct social impact studies before such decisions are taken.