May 15, 2020 News
On Wednesday, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) started to distribute the remainder of their severance payments to the former cane-cutters of Wales Estate, West Bank Demerara. This is according to a statement issued by the union yesterday.
It was revealed in the statement that the monies were withheld from the workers notwithstanding a decision of the High Court in their favour. In December, 2018, Justice Sandil Kissoon awarded one month’s pay in lieu of notice to the former Wales workers who took up work at Uitvlugt Estate following the closure of Wales Estate in December, 2016.
The union noted that this was apart from their severance entitlements, which are premised on their years of service to the sugar company. The union noted in its statement that, “The state-owned GuySuCo abided partially with the court’s order as it regarded the workers severance entitlements but refused to pay the workers, who were entitled, their one month’s pay. The union on two occasions early last year had written GuySuCo seeking its full compliance with Justice Kissoon’s decision.”
According to GAWU, notwithstanding the clarity of the court’s order, the GuySuCo remained adamant and refused to honour its legal obligations to the workers: “As a result of the Corporation’s apparent intransigence, the union, through its attorneys-at-law Devindra Kissoon and Natasha Vieira of London House Chambers, approached the High Court to have the outstanding section of Justice Kissoon’s decision enforced.”
That move saw Chief Justice (ag) Roxanne George-Wiltshire on November 21, last year, approving a garnishment order regarding the outstanding sum owed to the workers.
“Through the order, the corporation’s bankers – Demerara Bank Limited – was compelled to pay over to the union, on the workers behalf, the sum of $7.5M which was owed to the workers.”
However, the statement from the union said that the Corporation subsequently appealed the Chief Justice’s decision and when that matter came up for hearing earlier this year, the Corporation withdrew its appeal after its attorney learnt that the order was enforced and the appeal, therefore, became moot: “The withdrawal of the appeal by GuySuCo paved the way for the union to finally pay over to the workers their outstanding monies.”
According to the union, the workers were pleased to be receiving their outstanding payments and expressed their appreciation to the union for its sustained efforts to bring justice to them.
“They also lamented the seemingly arduous and long journey they had to endure to have their lawful rights respected. Indeed, the struggle of the sugar workers of the closed estates to receive their severance entitlements represents a sad chapter in our history but, at the same time, a proud achievement for workers’ rights. It also demonstrates too the obstacles workers have to surmount to having their rights respected and is yet another reminder of the need for workers to be organized lest their rights be disregarded,” the union noted in its statement.
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