…for celebrating birthday in Berbice as 400+ sugar workers fired
Following the revelation that multiple workers attached to the Rose Hall Estate are being laid off, members of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) on Thursday protested Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo as he visited the Auchlyne Primary School on the Corentyne (Region Six) in East Berbice, he having travelled to the ancient county to celebrate his 70th birthday.
The Prime Minister was visiting the school he had attended as a child, and what was meant to be a warm occasion was soon turned into bedlam as he was greeted by the chants from Opposition protestors decrying the closure of the sugar estates.
Their protest action comes on the heels of information disclosed to this news outfit late on Thursday — that some 500 more workers could face the breadline in addition to the 400 which were already reported to have been laid off. The protesters have claimed that the Prime Minister had deceived his fellow Berbicians.
“We are here to remind the Prime Minister that 400 sugar workers would be on the breadline…and we are here to remind him about his campaign promise he made over 2 years ago – that sugar is too big to fail, and that they have the solution for sugar and he would ensure that sugar workers are not on the breadline,” protestor Zamal Hussain said.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, had announced that the Special Purpose Unit (SPU) established under the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) would manage the privatisation/divestment process of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) and determine the way forward for Rose Hall Estate.
He had also claimed that closure of the estate was pushed back to sometime in 2018. Guyana Times, however, understands that the Special Purpose Unit, under the Ministry of Finance, may have brought forward the plans to discontinue the services of Rose Hall employees, which an insider pegged at 961 total workers before initial redundancy.
Contacted for comment on Thursday, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder refrained from committing to a specific timeframe for the closure of Rose Hall Estate, but confirmed that the SPU is assuming responsibility for the divested estate, rather than GuySuCo.
“The Special Purpose Unit falls under the Ministry of Finance and NICIL, not under Agriculture. I am not the subject minister for the Special Purpose Unit,” he clarified.
“The State Paper says that GuySuCo will not be involved in [the divestment of] East Demerara and Rose Hall,” the minister added.
When later asked directly about when the Rose Hall Estate would be closed, this minister directed this publication to speak with the Minister of State, as he was the one who would have made the disclosure of a deferred date. However, earlier in the afternoon, Minister Harmon did not allow the full complement of questions that he would normally take at his post-cabinet press briefings.
INews recently saw a letter concerning a Junior Staff Redundancy Notification directed to Rose Hall Estate Field Supervisor Ramnarine Subramanian. Dated November 26, 2017, the letter stated that a meeting had been held at the Rose Hall Estate Community Centre on November 22 in the presence of this category of workers’ union, the NAACIE (National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE). The document stated that GuySuCo no longer had job vacancies to retain Subramanian’s services, and that
December 29, 2017 would be his last day with the Rose Hall Estate and GuySuCo, and that termination of his services was in keeping with the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act 1997 (TESPA).
Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) President, Komal Chand, related on Wednesday that most of the 400 terminated workers had payments to them outstanding, and he expressed hope that the situation would not end up similar to what had obtained at Wales Estate, where, after almost one year, workers are still to be paid termination benefits.
In May 2017, Government announced plans to close the Enmore and Rose Hall Sugar Estates, sell the Skeldon Sugar Factory, reduce the annual production of sugar, and take on the responsibility of managing the drainage and irrigation services offered by GuySuCo.
The decisions announced by Government have been met with repeated protest actions, especially in sugar belt areas. Those protesting the presence of Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo on Thursday have also called on Government to rescind the appointment of GECOM Chairman Justice James Patterson.
When the Prime Minister visited Region Six earlier this month to attend two graduation ceremonies, the opposition political party had picketed him, and had vowed to so do whenever he or President David Granger visits the region.