Sugar woes: President promises severance, says ‘we won’t sell off the family jewels’

President David Granger

President David Granger has made a promise that dismissed sugar workers will receive the balance of their severance payments when Parliament reconvenes, next Thursday.

The Head of State made the announcement on Friday as he addressed supporters of the A Partnership for National Unity who gathered for a meeting at Rose Hall, Corentyne, Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne).

Prior to taking the podium, the President was greeted by angry protesters who reminded the Head of State of the suffering Berbicians have been experiencing under his Administration, but more so, since the closure of two sugar estates in the region.

People’s Progressive Party regional representative, Zamal Hussain, told the media that the Party supporters came out to remind the President that Berbicians are suffering.

He said even if the Ministers of Government are not pulling their weight, as Head of State he has an obligation to the people of the region.

”He is here for a political activity which is to campaign for the Local Government Elections (LGE) and as such we find it fit that we protest against certain issues; for instance we want to remind him that crime is on the upsurge in Region Six.”

Hussain said they wanted to send a strong reminder to the President that the region depended heavily on sugar, and with the closure of two of the three sugar estates, all other sectors have been affected.“The economic situation across the entire country is coming to a halt now,” Hussain said. “As residents of Region Six, we are not allowing the President to come here with his election gimmick again and to tell people to vote for his party; the one which has destroyed this country.”

However, President Granger during his address, said “At the beginning of the year, we said severance pay will be paid in two parts; one part in the first half of the year and the second part in the second half of the year. Next week we will go to the National Assemble to pass supplementary provisions for payment in the second half. Sugar workers are going to get their severance pay.”

“We decided to reorganise the sugar industry to make it more efficient. We did not kill the sugar industry. We saved the sugar industry, we saved Blairmont, Rose Hall and Uitvlugt. We are not killing and closing the sugar industry. We are reforming it,” the Head of State assured the protestors.

Granger also announced that a State Lands Sales Commission will be established to ensure there is a rational and transparent disposal of lands, which will no longer fall under the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), taking into consideration, the dismissed sugar workers, Ministries and agencies.

“Now, as far as the closures are concerned, once an estate has been closed, the lands will now be subject to the jurisdiction of, first of all, a State Land Sales Commission, of which the SPU, the Special Purpose Unit under NICIL, will have representation. The idea is that we won’t sell off the family jewels. We’ll make sure that the lands, which are being taken out of sugar, are placed to the benefit of the people of Guyana as a whole. Now, several anomalies and several contradictions may emerge. For example, the Ministry of Agriculture may need some lands in order to settle sugar workers who are interested in settling.The Ministry of Public Infrastructure would need some lands in terms of its highways and bridges. The Ministry of Communities may need some lands in terms of housing and other Ministries may need lands and private citizens may need lands,” President Granger has said.

Further on September 4, 2018, at the opening of a one-day Conference convened by the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) at Grand Coastal Inn, East Coast Demerara, Minister of State,  Joseph Harmon had said the issues of GuySuCo and the sugar industry are not being taken lightly by the Government of Guyana. He said Government has a clear vision for the sugar industry.

At the same conference 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, said on the sidelines of a one-day conference 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.”

Some 7000 sugar workers were dismissed on December 29, 2017, without severance being paid “on termination” as required by the law to all of them. Severance was paid in part to over 4000 of the 7000 dismissed sugar workers.

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


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