Prime Minister’s representative Gobin Harbhajan was placed in the hot seat on Wednesday, when several laid-off and protesting sugar workers confronted him with queries about their severance.
The workers, including women, from the Rose Hall and Skeldon sugar factories, staged a 35-minute picketing exercise outside the Office of the Prime Minister at Region Six, Port Mourant.
They demanded that the government honour its obligations to pay the remainder of their severance as soon as possible.
Braving the rain, the frustrated men and women displayed placards that read “Stop playing games, pay us now”, “The law is clear, pay us our severance.
They demanded that Prime Minister’s representative Gobin Harbhajan provide them with a date on when they would receive their outstanding payments.
Harbhajan assured them that he had passed on their grievances to Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo.
“Be assured that he will take the matter up to Cabinet”, he said. This clearly did not sit well with GAWU Regional Rep Harvey Tombron and the ex-workers, as they questioned Harbhajan on what exactly the PM has to take to cabinet “when all that is needed is the money that is owed”.
They argued that they are “not begging” but demanding “what we work for.”
Harbhajan said, “I spoke with the Prime Minister and he said he will look into this at the cabinet level but you have a right to protest”. In response, Tombron asked “why is it that you have to look at it at the cabinet level when by law, these people are entitled to their severance pay since they announced it. We cannot understand what has to be discussed at the cabinet level. You have been fooling the people all along; they promised them jobs and all sorts of things.”
Tombron argued on behalf of the workers that it has been difficult for the now unemployed men and women to sustain their families. He told Harbhajan that, “we know for a fact that he (PM) has been lying and he continues to lie to the people.”
The workers have only received half of their entitlements. GAWU in a release said that “the administration simply, and unfortunately, did not cater to settle its obligations to the redundant workers”.
Tombron argued that it is the law that they should have been paid on the last day; they worked at the respective factories.
“They went ahead and closed the estates without doing anything like a social impact study to know how many lives will be affected, to know how many families will be torn apart, they have not done anything”
The workers said they desperately need their outstanding monies.
The first half, they have said, has already been exhausted. They pointed out that they were forced to rely on their severance payments to meet their obligations, as they have not been able to secure steady, remunerative employment.
One ex-worker said that since receiving his first half of the severance money, he has been faced with the reality that “jobs na deh”.
He said that his wife is currently blind and suffering from a life threatening illness and it has been hard on him to tend to her medical needs.
He is also a father of four and told Kaieteur News that he depends on his brother “for a meal a day to get by”.
He added that he tried fishing but after spending a short time at sea; he was detained by Suriname authorities for two weeks because he did not have a licence to fish in Suriname waters.
The protestors also were upset to hear President David Granger recently saying that their payments were taking away from other sectors. They said they found the President’s remarks most disappointing as they pointed that they are not asking for any concession but only seeking what they are lawfully entitled to receive.
The workers said that it seems all have forgotten what the industry has given and is still giving to the country.
The ex workers and the GAWU rep urged the President to visit their villages to hear about the hardships that they are currently facing.
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