The unified strength of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) has enabled it to surmount challenges posed over the past 44 years of regional integration.This declaration was made by the Caricom Secretary-General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, while he urged the Community Council of Ministers to use those weapons to forge ahead.(l-r) Caricom Secretary-General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque; Haiti’s Foreign Minister and Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Antonio Rodrigue; and Caricom Deputy Secretary-General, Ambassador Manorma SoeknandanCaricom’s second highest organ held its 41st meeting at its Liliendaal, Greater Georgetown Headquarters on Monday to discuss the provisional list of items for the agenda of the 29th Inter-sessional Meeting of Heads of Government, which will be held in Haiti on February 26-27. The meeting was chaired by His Excellency Antonio Rodrigue, Minister of Foreign and Religious Affairs of Haiti.“Let us once again engage those weapons as we strive to ensure that, in our 45th year, integration continues to be the vehicle to provide sustained development and a secure, prosperous and viable Caribbean Community for all our peoples,” Secretary-General LaRocque admonished.He said the pressing issue of crime and violence — given the gravity of the situation faced by many member states — as well as disaster management and preparedness are among the items proposed for the Heads’ Meeting agenda.The SG reminded the Council that the discussions were being undertaken against the background of recovery efforts within the countries that suffered the terrible devastation of hurricanes Irma and Maria. Unified strength, he said, was evident in the relief effort galvanised by the Governments and peoples of the region in response to those disasters.Members of the Community Council of Ministers at its 41st meeting held on Monday at Caricom Headquarters“Our member states rallied around the stricken countries and rendered yeoman service in the aftermath of the disasters. Our institutions, well led by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) in close collaboration with the Secretariat, also delivered in support of the recovery efforts. The international community also made a sterling contribution,” he noted.Ambassador LaRocque went on to quote Prime Minister Minnis of The Bahamas, who had stated, “Sadly, the economic, environmental, social and psychological damage will remain for quite some time”. He added that the reality is that storms would be more frequent and intense as extreme climatic events become the new normal, as we are living with climate change.The Community’s main focuses, therefore, he added, are rebuilding and, critically, “on preparing for the others that are sure to come.”To this end, he noted that as a matter of urgency and as advocated in the Community’s Strategic Plan, efforts must be engineered to “build a resilient Community in all facets: economically, socially, environmentally and technologically.”As the Community forges ahead with reconstruction, the Secretary-General urged, regional and national programmes must be implemented to transform it into the world’s first climate-resilient region.
…“we will not fall for GuySuCo’s trap”While maintaining that the approach being used by Government and by extension, the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) to pay workers part of their severance is unlawful, Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) and former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall has declared that his party will not fall for the trap of filing immediate legal action, as workers could be left to suffer.Former Attorney General, Anil NandallMaking reference to the situation at the now defunct Wales Sugar Estate, when the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) filed legal action against GuySuCo in the High Court in March 2017, Nandlall recalled that it took six months before the matter was called.In fact, that matter is still before the courts and is expected to come up in early April 2018. In the meantime, 375 workers who refused to take up employment at Uitvlugt, West Coast Demerara, remain without severance payments.“The sad reality is I believe if the court is to be approached then GuySuCo would use that as a basis not to pay the workers. They will say let us await the court action. So, the workers are between a rock and a hard place…If they go to court, they walk into GuySuCo’s trap and GuySuCo says we are not going to pay you…that is exactly what they did with Wales workers. We are not going to fall into that trap again.”GAWU President Komal ChandFor this reason, Nandlall said no one has approached the court. However, he noted that at some point in time when the money is not forthcoming, there will be no other alternative but to resort to legal proceedings.He maintains that the payment of severance is not discretionary on the part of GuySuCo nor is it gratuitous. “It is mandatory and it’s an obligation that the law imposes; the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act clearly compels GuySuCo or any employer for that matter to pay severance to workers who are entitled to severance upon termination of their employment,” he added.Nandlall contends that GuySuCo should have taken into account whether or not it could pay severance before rendering these workers redundant, and dismiss only workers who it could pay severance benefits.He said it was doubtful that the thousands of workers that have been dismissed would be able to find alternative employment. And that only compounds the matter and makes the case worse.Non-negotiableThe Opposition MP also raised concerns over GAWU’s handling of the issue. He said, “I don’t agree with the manner GAWU has approached the matter. Quite frankly, I believe that GAWU should have ensured, demanded and taken a non-negotiable position when it comes to severance that all must be paid, or arrangements must be put in place for all to receive in some kind of staggered manner. This is so that every employee will begin to receive their severance benefits even though not all at the same time, but each would begin to receive some amount of money to sustain them.”Nandlall questioned, “On what basis was one set of workers selected for severance and another not selected? On what basis, some workers will benefit from severance and some have to wait until six months down the line. That is discriminatory and violates the Constitution.”While GAWU has registered its disappointment with the Government deferring the full payment of severance packages, citing breaches of the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act, the Union came out of a meeting last Friday with President David Granger and agreed to have only some of the workers paid full severance, while the others would have to wait for their full sum a bit longer.However, hundreds of sugar workers have since expressed their dissatisfaction with the way GAWU had handled the estate closures, severance benefits and other issues relative to the sugar industry, and they have called on GAWU President Komal Chand to resign.Guyana Times spoke with several workers in the sugar belt, and they said they felt betrayed when GAWU agreed to accept that only some sugar workers who were dismissed would get their full severance at the end of January.