Diamond Estate workers protest for severance pay
Several workers from the Diamond Sugar Estate picketed yesterday in front of the field office to press the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) to pay them a severance package, rather than have them redeployed.
GuySuCo has already indicated that the Diamond Estate is to be shut down as part of the corporation’s restructuring programme. The workers are being offered employment at the La Bonne Intention (LBI) Estate. But most of them say that it would be impractical for them to travel such a long distance.
Some of the workers reside at Parika and Soesdyke, and begin travelling from 04:00 hrs to reach the Diamond Estate. They would have to rise even earlier if they are redeployed to LBI. And some who were redeployed have accused GuySuCo officials of misleading them, claiming that there is often no work for them when they arrive on site.
Two representatives of the protesting workers alleged that Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud has failed to follow through on his promises to meet with the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) to resolve the issue.
The workers intend to resume their protest action today.
“They got money fuh tief, leh they find we money,” one female worker said.
“Look at what they paying the managers. Let them cut (redeploy) from the top,” another worker said. “It look like slavery come back.”
According to Workers’ representative Lucien Pierre, the employees were entitled to a severance package, similar to what GuySuCo has given others in the past.
“When the Diamond factory and workshop were closed, the workers got their severance pay and now the plantation is closing, we want our severance pay.”
Pierre said that Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud had promised to visit the estate on March 5. “But March 5 gone and he did not meet with us. He went to Blairmont and now I hear that he is in Israel.”
Highlighting some of the problems with the LBI plan, employee Michael Thomas said that members of the Diamond Estate shovel gang who were transferred to the LBI Estate found that there was no work for them there for seven weeks. According to him, much of the work that the shovel gang did at Diamond Estate is being done by machine at LBI.
Highlighting other problems, some of the women who work in the weeding gang also complained that their NIS contributions were incorrect.
Another woman also alleged that she suffered from facial burns after being sent to work in fields that had been sprayed with insecticide.
In a release issued yesterday, GAWU stated that almost all of the workers (just over 400) attached to Diamond Estate participated in the picketing exercise.
“The Diamond cultivation which comprises some 6,000 acres is slated for closure. The Corporation’s Blueprint for Success, also described as the Turnaround Plan, released last April confirmed the cultivation’s closure.” Since last year all categories of workers but the cane harvesters were instructed to take up work at the LBI and Enmore locations – miles away from their homes and their regular workplace.
According to the release, GAWU has contended that the decision to close the Diamond cultivation is injudicious. “The Union pointed out that in keeping with the Corporation’s goal of ultimately producing 80,000 tonnes of packaged sugar at Enmore Estate, the maintenance of the Diamond cultivation would ensure an adequate cane supply and would save the Corporation millions of dollars, having to develop new lands on the East Coast of Demerara which certainly would not be as high yielding as the Diamond cultivation.”
“The Corporation, ignoring the Union, is advancing the closure process as it is merely reaping the existing canes and not doing an iota to facilitate new cane growth. The Union, in the circumstances, fully supports the workers in their bid to be paid their severance pay in keeping with the extant Collective Labour Agreement.”
“The deployment of the workers to the East Coast Demerara Estates will rob the workers of their payoff benefits noting that many of them will either immediately or gradually opt out of the employ of the Corporation once they are permanently deployed to the East Coast Estates. The Union aware that the struggle of the Diamond workers will require the solidarity of fellow workers across the industry as well as others will do everything to support the workers so that the insensitive Corporation does not deny them their rightful Severance Pay.”