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Govt ministers differ on laying off of sugar workers now

Guyana’s Agriculture Minister, Noel Holder

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon and Agriculture Minister, Noel Holder were Tuesday at odds over whether sugar workers should have been told now that they would be laid off at month-end.

Harmon said the decision by the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco) to send home thousands of workers was not communicated to Cabinet and he was taken by surprise by reports in the media that the employees were issued letters telling them that they would be made redundant from December 31, 2017.

“Because of this nature of this matter that is something at least could have come to the Cabinet giving us some notification before time so at least if in fact the action had to be taken that they could make it softer…,” said Harmon who is the General Secretary of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), the major partner in the governing coalition.

Concerns have been expressed in some quarters about the political wisdom of issuing the redundancy letters to the workers just weeks before Christmas, 2017.

However, Holder said the decision to close the Skeldon, Rosehall-Canje  and Enmore operations of the ailing sugar corporation by the end of 2017 had been taken almost two years ago and is mentioned in the State Paper on the Sugar Industry that was tabled in the National Assembly.

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon.

The Agriculture Minister reasoned that it would make no sense to keep those estate operations open because no new cane has been planted the production of the sweetener. “The question is what happens after January the 1st. From the Guysuco standpoint, there is no cane in the ground. There is no way you can continue the operations of the factory because the cane has been finished so Guysuco is duty bound to do what they have to do,” he told reporters.

Holder is a member of the Alliance For Change (AFC), the other partner in the governing coalition.

For his part, the Minister of State argued that government, which has been providing cash-bailouts to Guysuco, should have been informed about the move to send home the workers. “The government, because of its responsibility to always provide bailouts for it and the fact that we have a bigger responsibility for ensuring that there is stability in the nation and that the people of this country, workers in particular are treated fairly, we believe that at least some prior notification ought to have been given of this letter that was sent out to these workers,” he said.

He stressed that the issuance of the redundancy letters has “come as a surprise to us”. “I, myself, was a bit surprised, that a major decision like that- the company would go ahead and do what they had to do”.

Harmon did not say if Cabinet discusses the matter whether the decision would be reversed at least for the time being. “Once it becomes before Cabinet a decision would be taken in the best interest of the people,” he said.