Sugar workers placed on $1.2M bail on several charges; Ramjattan representing them

Attorney Khemraj Ramjattan and some of the accused at the New Amsterdam Magistrate's Court today

Several sugar workers were today place on a total of $1.2 million in bail after they were charged with varying offences in relation to a protest action, they held yesterday at East Canje, Berbice.

Regional Commander Senior Superintendent Shivpersaud Bacchus had said 20 persons were arrested: 16 of them being sugar workers; one car driver, two fishermen and a labourer.

During a protest action yesterday – which marked 20 days of strike, the demonstrators had descended into disruptive behaviour, resulting in the intervention of the police.

The arrested individuals today appeared before Magistrate Renita Singh at the New Amsterdam Magistrate’s Court.

They are charged with obstructing the flow of traffic, unlawful assembly, intent to cause terror, and damage to property. It was revealed that a wooden stall being the property of Shanolee Sinclair, valued at $70,000, was damaged by the protestors.

They all pleaded not guilty to the obstructing the flow of traffic and were granted self-bail.

However, the other offences are indictable and as such they were not required to plea.

Police Prosecutor Inspector Orin Joseph drew reference to a similar incident on the East Coast of Demerara (ECD) where those arrested for similar offences under similar circumstances were each placed on $300,000 bail.

Attorney Khemraj Ramjattan, who is representing 18 of the accused, said many of them would not be able to make bail, pointing out that they have not been working for three weeks.

He argued that the workers are experiencing financial difficulties. He also pointed out that many of them are fathers, and schools have since reopened, placing more financial strain on them. Ramjattan argued that they were protesting seeking to get a better payment plan. Ramjattan said they all should be released on self-bail.

Nevertheless, Magistrate Singh set bail at $60,000 for each accused, for all of the charges.

Meanwhile, the other two accused are being represented by Attorney Charlyn Artiga while Ramjattan told the court that Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde and Attorney Darren Wade will be joining him in representing the 18.

Meanwhile, the accused will all have to return to court on October 16.

With plans afoot to reopen the Rose Hall Estate in Berbice by September month-end, some 270 workers were supposed to be transferred from the Albion and Blairmont Sugar Estates to work there.

Some of these workers were initially transferred to Albion and Blairmont when the Rose Hall Estate was closed in 2017 under the APNU/AFC government. As such, they were not retrenched and they did not receive severance. They also did not receive the one-off cash grant government had distributed to sugar workers who were left jobless when the coalition administration had downsized the sugar industry.

But now, these workers are objecting to the relocation back to Rose Hall, staging a strike action that has gone on for more than three weeks. While the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) has since announced that they will no longer be transferred, the workers are still protesting, demanding severance.

The government has already made it clear that these protesting workers are not entitled to severance, since they were not severed when the sugar industry was downsized.

Meanwhile, after the court hearing today Ramjattan, who played in integral role in downsizing the sugar industry and who had even supported the retrenching of thousands of sugar workers without paying them severance, told the media that he and his team will be defending all of the charges against the accused.

Ramjattan is currently an Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) and a former minister under the APNU+AFC coalition administration.