Finally, Wales cane cutters being paid outstanding severance

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Wales sugar workers began receiving their outstanding severance payments which were withheld from them notwithstanding a decision of the High Court in their favour, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) has reported.

Following is a full statement from GAWU: 

Yesterday (May 13, 2020), the GAWU began to distribute to the former cane cutters of Wales the remainder of their severance payments which were withheld from them notwithstanding a decision of the High Court in their favour. In December, 2018, Justice Sandil Kissoon awarded to the cane cutters of Wales who took up work at Uitvlugt Estate following the closure of Wales in December, 2016, one month’s pay in lieu of notice apart from their severance entitlements which is premised on their years of service to the sugar company.

The state-owned GuySuCo abided partially with the Courts order as it regarded the workers severance entitlements but refused to pay the workers, who were entitled, their one month’s pay. The Union on two (2) occasions early last year had written the GuySuCo seeking its full compliance with Justice Kissoon’s decision. Notwithstanding the clarity of the Court’s order, the GuySuCo remained adamant and refused to honour its legal obligations to the workers.

As a result of the Corporation’s apparent intransigence, the Union, through its Attorneys-at-Law Devindra Kisson and Natasha Vieira of London House Chambers, approached to High Court to have the outstanding section of Justice Kissoon’s decision enforced. Our legal recourse, saw Chief Justice (a.g.) Roxanne George-Wiltshire on November 21, last year approving a garnishment order regarding the outstanding sum owed to the workers. Through the order, the Corporation’s bankers – Demerara Bank Limited – was compelled to pay over to the Union, on the workers behalf, the sum of $7.5M which was owed to the workers.

The Corporation subsequently appealed the Chief Justice’s decision and when that matter came up for hearing earlier this year, the Corporation withdrew its appeal after its attorney learnt that the order was enforced and the appeal, therefore, became moot. The withdrawal of the appeal by the GuySuCo paved the way for the Union to finally pay over to the workers their outstanding monies.

The workers were most pleased to be receiving their outstanding payments and expressed their appreciation to the Union for their sustained efforts to bring justice to them. They also lamented the seemingly arduous and long journey they had to endure to have their lawful rights respected. Indeed, the struggle of the sugar workers of the closed estates to receive their severance entitlements represents a sad chapter in our history but, at the same time, a proud achievement for workers’ rights. It also demonstrates too the obstacles workers have to surmount to having their rights respected and is yet another reminder of the need for workers to be organized lest their rights be disregarded.