Fmr Skeldon Estate sugar workers protest for remainder of severance

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On Friday workers from the Skeldon Estate took to the streets to protest for the immediate payment of the severance they are owed by law.

The picketing exercise was held outside of their former workplace; that is, the Estate’s Administrative Office. And according to their union, the Guyana Agriculture and General Workers Union (GAWU), it illustrates the indifference of Government to the ordinary workers.

“Today brings us to 273 days since Skeldon, Rose Hall and the East Demerara Estates were closed, and 638 days since Wales Estate met a similar fate. For the thousands who have been affected, those days have been difficult and troubling and several previously mundane tasks have become a challenge in themselves,” the Union said in a statement.

“For the jobless Skeldon workers, they shared that they have found it difficult to secure jobs in the area. They were quick to point out in the per chance instance when they managed to find a job, the pay is hardly sufficient and it is only for a short period. This, they said, had forced them to utilise the first half of their severance to meet their expenses and obligations.”

According to the Union, the workers have by now exhausted those monies and are worried about feeding their families and sending their children to school. In addition, the Union pointed out they have to pay for basic amenities, among other things.

“They said that they are facing troubling times and their outstanding monies will greatly assist them. (Friday’s) picketing followed another hearing of the severance pay matter (Thursday).

At the hearing, the Judge requested GAWU, [Guyana Sugar Corporation] GuySuCo and [National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited] NICIL to present their arguments, in writing, within two weeks and on October 29, 2018, she committed to making a ruling on the matter.

“It is to be recalled, that GuySuCo, through its attorney-at-Law, on spurious grounds, was seeking to have the matter dismissed. The Corporation has a legal obligation to settling the workers’ payments and the GAWU in fulfilling its responsibility, as the workers’ bargaining agent, as it has done on many occasions when it has exercised its right to take legal action in defence of the retrenched workers” said the Union.

According to GAWU, “for the 7000 workers whom the Granger Administration has made jobless, they have not even heard from the Government to even, at least, provide some moral support in this hard time of their lives.”

Severance was paid in part to over 4000 of the 7000 dismissed sugar workers, with the remainder being promised at the end of this year.

The Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act stipulates that workers who are made redundant must be paid severance upon termination.

In September of this year during a one-day conference titled “Sugar – too big to fail,” Canada’s largest Private Sector trade union, Unifor, 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, told this media group on the sidelines the event that “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.”

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