Uitvlugt factory workers protest working hours, outstanding leave

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Workers gathered outside of the Uitvlugt Estate factory this morning (May 27, 2020) as they downed tools regarding hours of work and outstanding payment

See full statement from GAWU

The overwhelmingly majority of the workers attached to the Uitvlugt factory this morning (May 27, 2020) downed tools to express their dismay regarding their hours of work and certain outstanding payments to them.

At this time, with the first crop having ended a few weeks ago, the factory workers are currently engaged in out-of-crop maintenance work.

At the commencement of the out-of-crop, the workers and the Union reached an agreement with the Management wherein the working hours during the period would be confined to outside of the national curfew hours. Initially, the estate had sought the workers be divided into two shifts.

Through the proposed arrangement, workers on the second shift would have concluded their work during the curfew period.

At that time, the Union drew to the estate’s attention that during the cropping period many workers had faced many difficulties with the law enforcement officers when they returned home during the curfew period although they were deemed essential workers. In view of what prevailed, it was agreed that workers would not be required to work during the curfew period. It was suggested, at that time, that appropriate representation be made to the authorities to ensure workers do not confront similar difficulties should the curfew period prevail when the second crop commences.

Notwithstanding the agreement reached, the Estate, suddenly, began to demand that the workers be organized into arrangement though it was shelved following the Union’s representation. Moreover, there was no advice about whether any successful representation to avoid the difficulties workers faced when returning home during the curfew hours.

At the same time, the workers recognised that the requirement to have them all working at once prevented adequate social distancing. During the cropping period, to maintain round the clock operations, workers are staggered in three (3) shifts. Since 24-hour operations were no longer necessary, at this time, all the workers were required to be present.

In view of the large number of workers present, the Union suggested two shifts of workers be organized during the initially agreed hours of work.

This suggestion came against the background, that the estate has approved similar arrangements for its administrative staffers, undoubtedly, to protect their health and wellbeing. However, the Uitvlugt management has not yielded to the suggestion from the Union and the workers. Indeed, it is felt that this is not in keeping with adequate safety and health practices in the era of COVID-19.

The workers are also upset that their holiday-with-pay payments for those workers who have ten or more years of service has been delayed for two weeks now. Sugar workers employed in the fields and the factories receive holiday-with-pay payments in lieu of annual leave. This arrangement is among the benefits set out in the extant Collective Labour Agreement between the Union and the GuySuCo.

Regarding the payment, the workers entitled were told just on the day before that the Corporation hadn’t the monies offset the payment to the workers. Many workers, anxiously looked forward to receiving their entitlements and the delay for them has been upsetting. Following the workers protest, the Union was informed by GuySuCo during the day that the workers would finally receive their outstanding monies on May 29, 2020. It appeared hadn’t the workers raised their voices in protest they may have continued to see their payments withheld.

The GAWU is heartened that the workers can receive their outstanding entitlements though it is saddened that they were forced to take protest actions to have their rights respected.

Disappointingly it has, in recent times, become the norm, rather than the exception, for workers to take protest actions in order for them to benefit from what they worked and earned. We, at this time too, look forward to better sense prevailing and sensible measure be employed to protest the health and wellbeing of workers and their families. Indeed we all must play our role and appropriate work arrangements should be embraced at this time.