Having been exposed again that they had no intention of paying the more than 4,000 sugar workers who were terminated their legally-guaranteed severance this month as promised, President Granger had the self-proclaimed “champion” of the sugar workers read a message in Parliament that APNU+AFC will provide a 50% severance payment by the end of the month.
The announcement comes with another promise that the remaining 50% will be provided in six months’ time. This is a total breach of the law and in no way is a reflection of the generosity of the government, as they want people to think.
The Minister with responsibility for Labour, Keith Scott, must know that this announcement means that APNU+AFC stands indicted as breaching the labour laws of Guyana. He must act in defence of the workers. A crime is openly being committed against the workers of Guyana by their own government.
The Minister of Agriculture had promised that the sugar workers whose jobs were taken away by APNU+AFC would be paid their severance before the end of January. The sugar workers themselves doubted that he was speaking the truth. Many of us believed that the sugar workers had reasonable doubts that APNU+AFC had any intention to keep that promise and we raised our voices.
In an article earlier this week, I expressed my doubt that APNU+AFC had any intention to stand by the Minister’s promise. This was subsequently confirmed.
This is nothing but utter shamelessness, an absolute disgrace and another callous, cruel betrayal of the sugar workers. The termination of the sugar workers was done suddenly and without any consultation with the unions or with the workers themselves.
The severance payment to the terminated sugar workers is not an option for GuySuCo and APNU+AFC. It is a legal requirement. The payments are due immediately, not in accordance with a timetable established by the government.
To first promise the sugar workers that they would be paid in January and then announcing that Budget 2018 did not cater for such payments is not only an insult to the workers, but also a breach of the labour laws of Guyana.
Hopefully, the 50% payment being promised now is not another empty promise announced only to buy more time and avoid the enormous pressure from the workers and their families and from decent Guyanese. Personally, I will not believe that APNU+AFC will honour this promise until it actually takes place. The problem sugar workers face is there is no way they can survive on this 50% payment, and there is no way they can be confident that the other 50% will ever be paid. There are still sugar workers from Wales Estate who lost their jobs and are still awaiting their severance payments, more than a year after.
The boast that APNU+AFC is providing $100M for loans to sugar workers is even more shameful. With the loss of almost 6,000 jobs since January 2017 and more to come in the coming months, this means that APNU+AFC is making available a paltry $20,000 per worker as a loan, a measly sum that the worker will need to repay to the government.
Having terminated the sugar workers, the government must pay the full severance now.
The payment is due upon termination and that is not negotiable. The workers are now owed interest on this payment.
The failure to pay severance is a severe breach of the law and APNU+AFC must not feel that it is doing a favour for the sugar workers by promising a 50% payment soon and the rest six months later. They should all hang their heads in shame.
Dr. Leslie Ramsammy
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