…beneficiaries fear being short-changed by GovtEven as pensioners remain concerned over how much of their pension benefits they will actually get, the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) and the Agriculture Ministry are mum over the state of the pension fund for unionized workers.Even as the workers remain in the cold about the status of their pension fund, some have questioned whether they would be treated like the bauxite workers, in Region 10. A senior manager who is part of the fund told this publication that, in 2002, the then Government had signed an agreement with the two large bauxite unions, providing six weeks’ severance pay for every year of service, with a cap of 104 weeks. Additionally, the Government committed to pay the pension plan deficit and bring up to date outstanding payments for NIS and PAYE. The manager said that almost $3 billion was paid out by Government to fulfil these obligations.This newspaper was also told that, separate from the pay out, the Bauxite Industry Pension Plan (BIPP) was wound up and the full benefits were paid to all members of the bauxite industry pension plan.This is a major concern for another beneficiary of the GuySuCo pension plan called STEPS (Sugar Trading Enterprise Pension Scheme), which is the largest pension plan in the country. Its officials have said there seems to be no focus on protecting the workers’ benefits and ensuring fair treatment of sugar workers.Just over 5400 sugar workers were dismissed as Government closed four sugar estates and vested their assets into the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) since the end of 2017.There is major fear that Government would short-change the workers, a former employee told this publication on Saturday.“Instead of the workers being paid both their contribution and that of GuySuCo, workers are concerned that they may end up with far less than the same treatment enjoyed by the bauxite industry,” a former senior staff stated.The STPES Fund has a history of negative figures, but several persons have opined that with the closure of several estates and the downsizing of the industry, there will be an influx of persons into the pension system.Reports are that the Employees Retirement Benefits are in negative territory by $1.1 billion, as opposed to $2.4 billion in 2014, according to the 2015 financial statements produced by GuySuCo. And according to well-placed sources, the state of the fund has not improved.A former employee of the Corporation had told this newspaper that Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) pulling out from the fund has added pressure to the fund.The employee had expressed the view that Government had to be aware of the dilemma. He said this on the basis that there was no likelihood that foreign investors would have joined the fund, as the Financial Act currently prohibits certain levels of offshore investment.According to the former employee, there is likelihood that the scheme will lose its viability to provide a pension for those who are already receiving a pension, because of the lack of investment portfolios.“The pension is already burdened by those already receiving a pension, and it will be exacerbated by the additional people who will now become eligible for pension as a result of being severed from the company,” he added.While the pension fund had been in trouble before the new Government took office in 2015, there was no move made to stabilise the fund, especially in light of plans to downsize the industry.When contacted for information on the fund, GuySuCo’s acting Chief Executive Officer Paul Bhim had professed that the fund had a surplus. However, he was unable to provide details on exactly what the balance of the fund represented.He had informed this publication that there is usually a three-year valuation exercise done, with the next one due in June 2019. Bhim had revealed, however, that this exercise would be brought forward to this year, due to the massive changes.