GuySuCo meeting: Wales Estate workers say severance pay still outstanding

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The commencement of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) Community Outreach Programme for residents in sugar-dependent areas did not go as planned, as workers accused the former Wales Estate Manager of lying and stormed out of the meeting. However, they were later placated and rejoined the meeting.

Sugar workers at the Wales Community Centre, West Bank Demerara during GuySuCo meeting

The series of outreaches began on Thursday at the Wales Community Centre, West Bank Demerara.

The aims of the outreaches include creating awareness on the need for employees to show up to harvest cane; and mobilising community leaders and other stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers, Government, private and civil society sectors, around the importance of improving attendance on all Estates.

Former Estate Manager Dave Kumar was addressing the workers and encouraging them to attend work at the Uitvlugt Estate, West Coast Demerara. He told them that the Wales Estate is not closed, but rather ‘diversified’. However, the workers would have none of that. They tried to dispute his statements, but this only enraged him; thus, in retaliation, they stormed out of the meeting.

The workers, some 375 of them, will lose their jobs if they fail to show up for work, Chief Industrial Relations Officer at GuySuCo, Deodat Sukhu, has said. He claimed that many of these workers have not worked during the first crop, and he made those statements at the meeting on Thursday.

Sugar worker Michael Chotoo told this publication that the meeting with GuySuCo officials was convened to inform them that vacancies exist for their services at Uitvlugt Estate, but GuySuCo officials were unable to give them an answer when they demanded to know what benefits they would be afforded if they chose to take up the employment.

He related that Uitvlugt Estate Manager Yudhisthira Mana came prepared to sell the Uitvlugt jobs, as he showed them Powerpoint photos of the work done in regard to the Uitvlugt Estate Improvement Programme. Chotoo added that the workers are not contemplating taking up employment at Uitvlugt Estate, but are demanding they be given their severance pay.

“We need out severance pay! The Personnel Officer, Dexter, tell us that we must photocopy our ID cards and bring it and we will get our severance pay, and that if we owe Sugar Welfare, Courts or the Bank, then they will take it out of the severance, and we agree,” he related.

“But at this meeting now, he (Dexter) and Kumar telling we that harvesters and transporters can’t get no severance…We need somebody big to come in and help we get we money, so we can get on with our lives,” he added.

Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder and Public Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes had in March visited the community of Wales and met with the workers. The workers were promised their severance pay, but to date that has not materialized for some of them, according to Chotoo.

“We are not here to simply make things written in stone. We are going to take all of that…and we are going to take it to the relevant authorities; and one of those big authorities is Cabinet. I rather suspect that all that we have seen here is going to be taken back with the sentiment that major decisions would have to be made,” Ramjattan told the workers.

Chotoo informed that sugar workers are planning to seek an audience with Minister Ramjattan again, for him to provide an update on the position of his promises. The workers also took a jab at their union, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU), for its failure to inform them on the court proceedings against GuySuCo.

However, when contacted, GAWU President Komal Chand said there is no update for the workers, since the case has not yet been called. He added that the union would provide updates as the matter progresses, and noted that if the workers ask, they are informed of the status.

“We are in the process of completing a petition and getting the workers to sign, so we can take it directly to the President so he can look into the matter,” Chand said.

Since closure of the Wales Estate in December of 2016, some 1700 workers have been directly affected, and thousands of persons in Wales and surrounding communities have been indirectly affected.

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