$2.4B in severance payments approved: Wales sugar workers also included

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…Opposition calls for immediate disbursements as date for payments unclear

File photo: Former Wales workers during a protest march

After two long years of waiting for their severance, some 460 retrenched workers attached to the Wales Estate will finally receive their payments before the end of this year as the National Assembly on Wednesday evening approved $2.4 billion in severance payments for over 4000, Wales, Berbice and East Demerara sugar workers who were sacked when Government closed several sugar factories.

The monies were approved when all 62 Members of the Parliament on Wednesday evening voted in favour of $3 billion in supplementary funds under the Agriculture Ministry’s current expenditures.

Government requested and received approval for a total of $7.5 billion in supplementary funds. This includes $4 billion in current estimates and $3.4 million in capital.

Of the entire supplementary funds, the Agriculture Ministry requested $3,051,000,000 of which $2.451 billion is to meet final severance payments to some 4733 former workers of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).

In responding to questions from Opposition Parliamentarian Gillian Burton, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder disclosed that the monies being requested include funds to also pay the retrenched Wales workers.

Wales ended operations in December 2016 and some 375 workers who refused to take up employment at Uitvlugt, West Coast Demerara, remained without severance payments, putting hundreds of families on the breadline and causing economic crisis to surrounding communities.

The workers have been taking to the streets, protesting for their severance to be paid.

According to Minister Holder, a total of 460 workers from Wales are to get their severance monies.

However, despite being asked repeatedly by Opposition MPs, Burton, Komal Chand and Gail Teixeira, about when these payments will be made, the Agriculture Minister could only assure that the payments will be made before the end of the year.

“[They] certainly will get it before the end of the year,” Holder posited, while adding that as soon as the money is available after approval by the House, efforts will be made to disburse same to the dismissed sugar workers.

When the supplementary request was put up for voting, the Opposition members were silent when Speaker, Dr Barton Scotland asked if any oppose the additional monies. However, the Government’s side called for a division, which was allowed, the People’s Progressive Party MPs having to voting “yes”’ to the Government’s requests.

On Wednesday the opposition called for immediate disbursement of payments. However, despite asking the Government several times about date for payments none was forthcoming.

Only last month, President David Granger assured a gathering at Rose Hall, Corentyne, that those dismissed sugar workers will receive the balance of their severance payment when Parliament comes out of recess. The announcement came after months of protest by the workers, who are facing difficulties as a result of the closure of sugar estates.

As part of its plans to bring the heavily indebted and cash strap GuySuCo back into profitability and efficiency, Government fired thousands of workers in an effort to downsize the sector leaving a mere three-estates – Albion, Blairmont and Uitvlugt – in operation.

The Skeldon, Rose Hall and East Demerara (Enmore) estates were closed in December 2017 with no severance payments made to the workers. However, back in January, Government secured $.93 billion from the National Assembly to pay some of the ex-sugar workers from those three estates.

Those dismissed workers whose severance packages are $500,000 or less were paid in full by January 31, 2018, while those entitled more than that amount were only paid 50 per cent, with the remaining half to be paid in the second half of the year.

As such, since July, these workers and their families have been looking forward to the second tranche of the severance money from Government.(Vahnu Manikchand)

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