Sugar severance package

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President David Granger

…$1M likely for each sugar worker
…new roadmap emerging for security of industry

EACH retrenched sugar worker is likely to receive around $1M in severance pay and a new roadmap to secure the industry is emerging with President David Granger announcing that his government will be consolidating cultivation at Albion, Blairmont and Uitvlugt estates, producing 147,000 tonnes annually and protecting the jobs of over 11,000 workers.

Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo

President Granger said too that some $2B, representing 50 per cent of the severance pay will be disbursed to all retrenched sugar workers at the end of this month. Weighing in on the issue, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo told the Guyana Chronicle that there was absolutely no doubt in his mind that “our coalition government would ensure that sugar workers receive their severance payment. GuySuCo has no money to meet its obligations and government came to its rescue once again,” the Prime Minister noted.

He said the overall cash payout is in excess of $4B which would be paid out in two lump-sums starting this month end. “It is estimated on average each redundant sugar worker would get as much as $1M, but the cash payout is part of a package, which would also see some workers having access to small loans for small businesses and down the road, retraining for skilled jobs; redeployment to associated jobs in drainage and irrigation, health and community service.”

Mr Nagamootoo said it is his firm view that apart from the humanitarian package, workers would be able to access plots of leased lands from which they could eke out a profitable livelihood for themselves and families through other crops and or aquaculture. “I am pleased with the dedicated effort of the Cabinet and President David Granger in particular for having extended engagements, even over the holidays with GuySuCo and the Special Purpose Unit (SPU) to work out a roadmap both in the interest of sugar workers and the reformed new sugar industry. I am pleased that some 11,000 sugar workers would be retained in the merged estates and that we did everything we could to cushion the impact of retrenchment in the estates that would either be privatized, divested or diversified,” Mr Nagamootoo said.

It saddens me
However, the Prime Minister said “what saddens me is that this nation has to endure so much hurt all because of the mess that the Bharrat Jagdeo administration left the sugar industry in…he left it in a state of bankruptcy.” The PM told this newspaper that no other single matter has engaged the cabinet so intensely as the plight the sugar industry had been placed with in by the former government. “Cabinet met in several extended emergency sessions over the last 30 months to save the industry and protect the welfare of workers and their families,” he concluded.

In his statement Wednesday President Granger said GuySuCo has been in a state of crisis for over 25 years and government has acted “resolutely and responsibly to protect the livelihood of workers, to preserve the viability of rural communities and prevent the further financial depletion of the country’s treasury.”

However, he noted that government, not only his, has struggled to maintain the industry’s viability by engaging international advisory, technical and managerial corporations such as Booker-Tate Ltd., Bosch Projects (PTY) and Global Cane Sugar, between 1992 and 2015; erecting a new factory at Skeldon in the East Berbice-Corentyne Region at a cost of US$ 121M; expending G$48.02B in financial support to the industry since 2011 and G$32B over the past thirty months – at a rate of about one billion dollars a month.

“This Government cannot sustain the sugar industry in its current state. It has had to make difficult choices in order to ensure the industry’s viability,” the President said in his message, while noting that several measures were employed, including the convening of a commission of inquiry into the state of the industry in October 2015; publishing a State Paper on the future of the industry in May 2017; creating a ‘Special Purpose Unit’ to manage the reform of the industry in June 2017.

Not being dismantled
He reiterated that GuySuCo is not being dismantled and “It is working actively to ameliorate the impact of retrenchment on workers livelihood. Thus far, Government said it has established an Alternative Livelihood Programme (ALP), aimed at providing support by enabling displaced employees to access available opportunities to function in other fields; embarked on the training of employees to work in new operational fields across the industry in places such as the field workshop and providing services.

Additionally, the President noted that his administration has engaged 500 employees from the West and East Demerara Estates with over 100 of them signalling their willingness to be retrained, in fields such as carpentry, masonry, plumbing, mechanical and electrical works and in small business enterprises.

Slashing of budgets
Finance Minister Winston Jordan has said that government will have to cut several budgetary programmes to facilitate payment of the severance packages. Jordan said the administration will ensure all workers get their severance, but noted that it is a case of where the government has to find resources to make the total payment of $5B.

“It was a sudden and large amount and we had to find creative ways to do this… we will have to re-examine our 2018 budget which will very well result in cuts to programmes, so as to release money to pay the severances,” he said. This is why the severance is being paid in parts, he said.

On Wednesday, sugar workers who spoke to the Guyana Chronicle, though expressing disappointment that the full payment will not be made at once, said they are thankful that by the end of this month, they will receive 50 per cent of their severance package. Abdullah Rahaman Majeed, 55, of Welfare Street, Canje, said he is pleased that finally they will be paid their severance, but said it would have been better if they had received all at once.

“It’s a great relief. It is better than nothing, but I would have preferred to get the lump-sum of cash so that I can invest into something that will be able to sustain my livelihood,” he told this newspaper. Majeed was employed at the Rose Hall Estate as a labourer for the past 35 years and has big plans for the money.

Fifty-year-old Lilowattie Budhai, who had worked as a cook at the Rose Hall Estate for the past eight years, said the announcement brings a sense of relief to the affected sugar workers. But like Majeed, the Coburg Street, Cumberland woman said they should have been paid their benefits all at once. “I only work eight years with the estate so meh ain’t get plenty money to collect and only half meh gon collect won’t do much. I have a sick husband to take care of and me jobless,” she told this newspaper.