…private farmers, over 2000 workers forgottenWhile the plight of the 5700 sugar workers, who were unilaterally fired by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) just before Christmas of 2016 and Christmas of 2017 has finally percolated to the consciousness of the average Guyanese because of the added indignity of the Government refusing to pay their severance, an even more severe predicament has struck the more than 2000 workers along with private cane farmers at Wales, East Demerara Estates (Enmore/LBI), Rose Hall and Skeldon.These workers had been employed for decades by the private cane farmers and are as dependent on the income from this source for their livelihood – meagre as it was – just as the cane workers employed by GuySuCo. Unfortunately, their working arrangements were much more informal since they were not covered by the union contracts negotiated by sugar unions. For instance, they are not eligible for any severance pay as that owing to the fired GuySuCo workers and therefore face a gloomier future.The private farmers in and of themselves have made massive investments and at Wales contributed up to 40 per cent of the tonnage of cane when that estate was operating. The Government had promised since the closure at the end of 2016 to construct a road to transport farmers’ cane to Uitvlugt more than 20 miles away, but that never materialised. In the meantime, much of the cane has been abandoned by the farmers since it is not economical to ship the cane on the deplorable dams. The workers have obviously not been “required” and have not received any income in over a year.Over at Skeldon, farmers were supposed to provide up to 30 per cent of the canes according to the original modernisation plan, but even though this was never realized, the acreage is still significant and the commensurate workforce, very large. To keep Rose Hall active, private farmers as far away as East Bank Berbice, produced and shipped cane to the factories. The workers there are in the same boat as their colleagues at Wales.On the East Coast of Demerara, the sugar lands behind many of the historic villages such as Buxton/Friendship employed scores of workers on the plots cultivated by private cane farmers who shipped the cane to Enmore factory, now shuttered. While the Government has spent large sums of money to make some lands cultivable, they have refused to address the plight of these now redundant cane farmers and workers. The workers say Government is digging a hole to fill another hole, but they have lost a bird in the hand.Guyana Times spoke to these workers in each of the locales after a number of them approached it and their fears for their future was palpable. They are pleading that the politicians and trade unions also address their plight.In May, Government announced plans to close the Enmore and Rose Hall Sugar Estates, sell the Skeldon Sugar Factory, reduce the annual production of sugar, and take on the responsibility of managing the drainage and irrigation services offered by GuySuCo. This move has seen some 4763 sugar workers being placed on the breadline. There have been countrywide protest actions since the announcement, calling for the closures to be reversed as well as for the retrenched workers to be paid their full severance.According to the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act, redundant workers are to be paid severance upon termination of their employment. The law state, “On termination of his employment, an employee whose severance or redundancy has completed one year or more years of continuous employment with allowance, an employer shall be entitled to be paid by such employee a severance or redundancy allowance…”However, the workers from Enmore, Rose Hall and Skeldon estates were dismissed on December 31, 2017, without being paid their severance.After months of saying that there was no money to pay the displaced workers their entitled severance, President David Granger just over two weeks ago announced that some $2 billion has been earmarked to pay redundant sugar workers 50 per cent of their severance by the end of January, while the remaining monies will be paid in the second half of the year.But this move came in for much criticism with stakeholders, including the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), saying it is a flagrant breach of the labour laws. Government subsequently announced last week that those redundant workers entitled to $500,000 and less will receive their full severance.On Friday last, various Government Ministers including Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo visited the now closed estates to address the fired workers and where met with protest at the three estates.