NIS halts sickness, accident benefits for sugar workers – GAWU

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NIS General Manager Holly Greaves

The Guyana Agriculture and General Workers Union (GAWU), has sounded the alarm following the revelation that the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) has decided to stop paying sugar workers their sickness or accident benefit claims.

According to the Union on Friday, NIS’ decision stems from the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) indebtedness to it. However, GAWU was of the view that NIS could not arbitrarily take it upon itself to stop paying employees their rightful benefits.

“The Union understands that the NIS stance takes account of the GUYSUCO’s indebtedness to the Scheme. The Union, as part of its services, makes representation to the NIS, through its local and central offices, regarding outstanding claims of workers, among other things,” GAWU said on Friday.

According to GAWU, it recently collaborated with fellow union National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) to write NIS General Manager Holly Greaves about the matter.

GAWU maintained that NIS is legally obligated to honor these workers’ claims and stated that in their May 22 letter they made reference to the NIS Act Section 17 (1, c),“For treating, for the purposes of any right to benefit, Contributions payable by an Employer on behalf of an Insured person, but not paid as paid, where the failure to pay is shown not to have been with consent or connivance of or attributable to any negligence on the part of such person.”

GAWU pointed out that the law is clear in that a contributor cannot be denied benefits on the grounds of non-payment by his employer, as long as they are not culpable in defrauding NIS. According to GAWU, it is clear that GUYSUCO workers are innocent and not responsible for the corporation’s debt to NIS.

“Workers are undoubtedly not involved in any fraudulent intrigues and their contributions to the NIS are evidenced by their pay slips which indicate deductions were made from their wages and salaries. At this time, our letter to the NIS GM has not been even greeted with an acknowledgement much less a response,” GAWU said.

“Our Union, in the meantime, continued to follow up matters with the NIS when it was informed by an official of the Scheme, a few days ago, that a decision was taken to only honour claims made up to December 31, 2019. It, therefore, means that for the year, so far, the NIS, contrary to its own Statues, has failed in its obligation to provide social protection to the thousands of sugar workers.”

According to GAWU, this decision is likely to affect contributions of sugar workers since it will in all likelihood not be credited to their records. This could have a devastating effect on workers who are nearing pensionable age, denying them their rightful pension.

GAWU called on NIS to honour claims made by workers. “Undoubtedly, they would have anticipated receiving benefits from the scheme having been unable to work, sometimes for long periods, arising from sickness or accident. The Scheme and GUYSUCO should work out the Corporation’s indebtedness but workers should not be unfairly penalized,” the Union said.

When contacted NIS Chairman John Seeram referred this publication to General Manager Holly Greaves. However, repeated attempts to contact Greaves proved futile.

It was only last year that the Finance Ministry’s Half Year report revealed that NIS is in a worsening position, as its multimillion-dollar deficit continues to grow while revenue collection increases.

According to the report. NIS recorded an overall deficit of $748.4 Million for the year, compared to the $715.6 Million it recorded in the same half year period for 2018. Revenue collection so far for 2019 was $11.9 Billion, 9.7 per cent more than the same period for 2018.