February 24, 2017

Wales sugar workers take to streets over non-payment of severance

As a group of irate sugar workers who were supposed to receive their severance packages since last year protested at the Guyana Sugar Corporation’s (GuySuCo) Wales Sugar Estate, their representative union has refuted claims that definitive conclusions on the workers’ future were decided.

“Give us severance” – These workers rejected proposals to transfer to the Uitvlugt Sugar Estate

“Give us severance” – These workers rejected proposals to transfer to the Uitvlugt Sugar Estate

Speaking with Guyana Times International early Monday morning, the workers stated that they have had enough of the uncertainty over their owed payments and reiterated theirrejection to be transferred to the Uitvlugt, West Coast Demerara (WCD) Estate. The frustrated workers demanded that their severance packages be paid immediately, which were reportedly promised to them since December of last year.
It was after GuySuCo’s meeting with the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) on Wednesday last, that the sugar corporation disclosed to the public that there is a demand for labour at the Uitvlugt Estate, which will start its first crop later this week. According to the workers, they were informed last week Friday that the Union reportedly agreed for employees to be transferred to Uitvlugt, but the sugar workers stressed that they are not prepared to go anywhere, citing distance as their key reason.
“It (Wales) abandoned, let we get we severance, we deserve it,” one worker told this publication.
“They give a paper Friday saying for we to go to Uitvlugt but we cannot go there,” another man indicated.
The workers further explained that they were also against the transfer, as they cannot be compelled to travel beyond 10 miles to their place of work.
“They seh they not forcing anybody to go Uitvlugt and now dem eating back dem word,” worker RahemS eepersaud noted.
Meanwhile, Michael Chotoo, who worked at Wales Estate for 25 years, explained that the 22-mile journey from Uitvlugt to Wales every day is too far for him to commute.
“From [Wales] to Uitvlugt is 22 miles, leaving out how much [more] you got to go in de backdam. You think every day a worker could travel 44 miles to go and come? What gan happen to he body?” the worker highlighted.
Chootoo further lamented that traffic also factors into the extensive travel to the West Coast Demerara Estate.
Joshua Fernandes, who worked with the Estate over 20 years, also noted that many of the workers’ plans for alternative means to earn a living are on hold. He explained that a few of his colleagues managed to secure jobs on sea and in the interior, but they are currently left at a stand-still, waiting on the sugar corporation to pay them their severance.
Fernandes also called for more representation from the workers’ representative union.
Meanwhile, GAWU in a statement on Monday professed that it was indeed “puzzled by media reports” as quoted by GuySuCo to the effect that some 650 workers from Wales Estate would take up employment at the Uitvlugt Estate.
“The Corporation’s statement, as reported, appears to be definitive, but is certainly not reflective of the discussions and conclusions reached at the GAWU-GuySuCo engagement,” GAWU stressed.
GAWU, seeking to clear the air, disclosed that at the meeting, which had taken place at the LBI Training Building on Wednesday last, the Corporation had informed the Union’s delegation that “it was seeking to have some 420 workers – cane cutters and the workers engaged in transporting the canes from the fields to the factory – taking up work at Uitvlugt Estate to augment that Estate’s labour pool.”
The Union further explained that the shop stewards “advised” the Corporation’s representatives at the meeting that they and their fellow workers were seeking to be paid severance as cane production was discontinued at the Wales Estate. The Union also noted that the parties agreed to engage the 420 workers on the Corporation’s proposals tomorrow (Wednesday) and Thursday. The Union also corroborated allegations the workers disclosed to this newspaper that Management at Wales reportedly instructed the cane cutters to take up duties at Uitvlugt.
In early 2016, Guyana Times broke the news of Government’s intention to close the Wales Factory. Shortly afterwards, Government confirmed the end of sugar operations at Wales Estate, citing cost as the main factor for closure. It was later disclosed that rice will be planted as part of the diversification plan, but it remains unclear when the first rice crop will be reaped.