Potential closure of Uitvlugt EstateIn light of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) touting the possible closure of the Uitvlugt Estate over the fact that workers from Wales are refusing to work at the West Coast Demerara facility, sugar workers are being asked to remain vigilant.This call was made by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo at a press conference earlier this week.Government had merged the operations of the two West Demerara estates afterOpposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeoclosing the Wales Estate last year. It had noted that the Uitvlugt Estate is being upgraded to increase its production from 20,000 to 40,000 tonnes of sugar annually, which will demand more labour. In this regard, some 374 of the Wales workers were to be transferred to Uitvlugt but they have refused the employment offer, saying that it is unreasonable for them to travel some 22 miles to the West Coast Demerara facility.In light of this situation, the sugar corporation said in a statement a few days ago that it may have to consider closing the Uitvulgt Estate if the nearly 400 Wales harvesters and cane transporters continue to withhold support from the Uitvlugt Improvement Programme.However, this disclosure comes as a departure from what the National Assembly was told earlier this month by Agriculture Minister Noel Holder when he presented the White Paper on the future of the sugar industry. The Minister had said that only the Rose Hall and Enmore Estates would be closed by year end, Skeldon will be divested.According to Jagdeo, the ink on the White Paper has not even dried properly and there is now a new move to close another estate. “This betrays the thinking in some circles in the Government, and they don’t understand that they are not only putting sugar at risk, but our country at risk and its wellbeing,” he said.SeveranceIn their refusal of the transfer, the workers were requesting severance pay, and have been staging protest actions to get the Government and the sugar corporation to pay. GuySuCo has refused to make the payment, contending that the workers would be entitled to severance pay only if their services are terminated. The company further insists that the workers are not being transferred but will remain on the Wales payroll.But former President Jagdeo pointed out that the law stipulates that if the transfer is more than 10 miles, then the workers have the right to refuse. In this regard, he posited that Government should pay the workers their severance, as was done by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration.In fact, the Opposition Leader noted that Government can easily pay the workers their termination benefits and then re-employ them on a new contract.White PaperMoreover, turning his attention to the White Paper, which was dubbed ‘State Paper on the Future of Sugar Industry’, Jagdeo asserted that the document is hopelessly ill-conceived, misconceived, and does not address the future of the industry or the critical concerns of workers — such as diversification into what, and how to ensure that there is no loss of welfare.The Opposition Leader went on to outline that the document is not GuySuCo’s White Paper but a Government of Guyana White Paper. He said this to highlight that GuySuCo is more concerned about profitability as a company, and he opined that Government has to be the one concerned about people’s livelihoods.“There is a big difference between a government’s white paper and a profit and loss statement by a company making decision. So the Government has failed on those standards — on tabling this White Paper and not addressing those critical issues,” he stated.Against this backdrop, Jagdeo is urging the public that everyone in the community – man, woman and children – must all come out to show the Coalition Government their displeasure at what they are doing to destroy their livelihoods.“As people have done in Georgetown with the parking meter, across race and across politics; as people have done with the VAT on education — they have come out and showed their displeasure, and (done) so peacefully and in large numbers. That’s what I’ve said at all my community meetings, and I hope people continue to do this in the sugar belt,” he noted. The Opposition Leader further posited that this Government pretends to be saving the industry and sugar workers, when in fact it has taken away 10,000 jobs from the workers.