THE Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc. (GuySuCo) on Monday clarified that cane harvesters and transport operators of Wales could only become entitled to the payment of severance or redundancy allowance if their contracts were terminated in accordance with sections 12 and 21 (1) of the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act (TESPA).
A number of workers of the estate have been clamouring for severance pay, but the sugar corporation explained that the question of whether the contract of employment of an employee is to be terminated by reason of redundancy is a determination which must be made specifically by the employer, pursuant to section 12 of TESPA. On the other hand, GuySuCo said the employees in this case the cane harvesters and cane transport operators cannot unilaterally decide that they are redundant. “In the absence of the termination of the contracts of employment of these two categories of employees, the Corporation is under no legal obligation to pay severance or redundancy allowance,” the statement read.
Additionally, GuySuCo said these employees’ services are currently being retained at the Wales Estate and were offered work at the Uitvlugt location. “The issue of Uitvlugt Estate being outside of a ten (10) mile radius from Wales does not invoke the operation of section 21 (4) (b), in the absence of there being any termination of the contracts of employment of the Cane Harvesters and Cane Transport Operators. Importantly, the section does not create an entitlement to the payment of severance or redundancy allowance where the employee is merely being offer work at another worksite, outside of a ten (10) mile radius.”
The corporation also said it intends to transport these employees daily from Wales to Uitvlugt Estate for work, and to pay them a disturbance allowance in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement (CLA), entered into in 2004 by the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and the Corporation.
GuySuCo said this arrangement is not a peculiar one within the industry, noting that the practice of transporting employees to other estates for work is addressed under clause 26 of the CLA. Clause 26 of the CLA makes provision for the payment of a disturbance allowance, where field and factory workers are required to work on an Estate, other than their base Estate. “In light of the customary practice of the Corporation of transporting workers to the Estates for work, the Corporation’s undertaking to transport the Cane Harvesters and Cane Transport Operators from Wales to Uitvlugt Estate is not a novel situation.”
Additionally, GuySuCo said part of the current debate makes reference to the abandonment in 2009 of the Diamond Estate Cultivation and severance was paid to the same categories of employees. However, it is important to note, the sugar company said that it was not until 2010 that the question of severance was raised. It noted that due to an intervention by the Government of the day, there was a final settlement in terms of severance to the employees in 2011, after they had been employed at LBI Estate for 18 months. It is to be noted that this arrangement was quite different from the normal industrial relations engagements.
“The transferred employees were paid a disturbance allowance and transported to LBI Estate on a daily basis. This position was supported by the then Chief Labour Officer who acted as conciliator between the Corporation and GAWU. The situation involving the employees from the Diamond/LBI Estates and those from Wales Estate is different, since in the Diamond/LBI case the services of the employees were actually terminated for redundancy, hence they were entitled to receive a severance or redundancy allowance.”
GuySuCo stressed that the offer of employment remains open to the Cane Harvesters and Cane Transport Operators from the Wales Estate to go to the Uitvlugt Estate. “In the current circumstances therefore, it is arguable that should the employees voluntarily terminate their services, that consistent with TESPA, they would not be eligible for benefits.”
Meanwhile, cane harvesters and other support staff from the Wales have been gradually taking up positions at the Uitvlugt Estate. This is according to the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Errol Hanoman who spoke to the Guyana Chronicle on the sidelines of the recently held Cabinet outreach to Wales on the West Bank of Demerara, on Friday. Upon the closure of the Wales Sugar Estate, some 389 persons were made redundant and paid their severance. The remaining 428 cane harvesters and support staff were expected to remain with the Sugar Corporation with the majority (374) expected to be transferred to the Uitvlugt Estate.
According to Hanoman, since the start of this crop, the numbers have been gradually increasing. “Since the crop started in February, the numbers have been climbing, we started with seven, and we had 43 this morning,” the CEO pointed out. It is the hope of GuySuCo that the numbers will continue to increase.
On Friday, during the ministerial outreach at the Wales Community Centre, the harvesters pleaded with the Agriculture Minister, Noel Holder; the Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan, and the Minister of Public Telecommunication to have their severance paid, contending that only five persons had opted to be transferred to the Uitvlugt Sugar Estate.
But Hanoman is refuting this claim. “Contrary to what you would have heard, there was a point in these discussions that over 250 said yes they would remain and work at Uitvlugt and suddenly there after they opted for severance,” he contended.
However, Hanoman believes that the call for severance has no merit in this case. It was explained that if the sugar workers were made redundant and subsequently offered re-employment beyond 10 miles of the original location, they are entitled to severance.
But in this case, GuySuCo has not made this batch of workers redundant. “But we have not made these people redundant so the question of 10 miles doesn’t arise,” Hanoman further argued while alluding to the Diamond Sugar Estate closure.
“So Diamond for example, they were made redundant and the question of severance did arise…In this case, they have not been made redundant, and if they have not been made redundant, there is no reason why they shouldn’t work with us,” he emphasised.
The Government, however, is maintaining that GuySuCo is in no financial position to make an additional payout of $375M in severance. However, in light of threats to legal recourse, it said if the matter is won by the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) in the courts, it will respect the court’s decision and pay the $375M the best way possible.
Like Government, Hanoman is of the strong opinion that if the majority of the workers withhold their labour, it will ultimately result in the collapse of the Uitvlugt Sugar Estate.
“If we want to ensure that Uitvlugt survives we need to have these 300 plus persons, harvesters and support staff from Wales at Uitvlugt,” he emphasized.
Minister Ramjattan, during the meeting, cited three reasons why the workers should give support to the Uitvlugt Sugar Estate.
“At this stage, there are three reasons: the option that you took earlier in the transition, the one that we don’t have the money; the $375M to pay and thirdly, the fact that it would necessarily mean a collapse of Uitvlugt if the workers don’t go there,” he summarised.
However, the Public Security Minister noted that nothing is written in “stone,” and the matter will be discussed at the level of Cabinet. Since taking office in 2015, the Government has pumped $32B into the ailing sugar industry.