Creating tragedy in cane

first_imgThe heart-wrenching images of wives of sugar workers in Berbice protesting the imminent closure of the Rose Hall factory without any alternative employment or source of employment provided to their soon-to-be unemployed spouses should be to the nation a wake-up call to be aware of the human tragedy that is being created by the Government in the sugar belt.After appointing a commission of inquiry (CoI) into the admittedly troubled sugar industry, the Government rejected its recommendations and — without warning — plunged into a massive closure of more than half of the estates, which collectively employ more than 22,000 workers and affect the livelihood of more than four times that number.The CoI had essentially made an eminently sensible suggestion: inject funds immediately into the industry to bring the estates into a state of readiness, and then privatise them in three years’ time, when an optimum price could be obtained.The Chairman of GuySuCo, Dr Clive Thomas, was a member of the CoI, yet he participated in the immediate closure of Wales Estate on the West Bank of Demerara within months of the Report being submitted to the Government. The fate of Wales and its 1700 workers illustrates what is in store for the more than 7000 workers in the other estates to be closed this year.The infrastructure of the Wales factory and its 14,000 acres of arable land were described by the Government as “run down”, even though this was not the position of the CoI. The Government announced it was closing the factory, and the hundreds of employees that manned it were immediately made “redundant” and given “severance pay”. By the end of 2016, this was also the fate of the field workers. However, the Government played a very cynical game when it specified that some six hundred cane-cutters would have to be “transferred” to Uitvlugt Estate, where there was a shortage of labourers.The Government in general, and the Labour Department in particular, could not have been oblivious to the fact that the labour agreement with the sugar union explicitly forbids workers being sent to work more than 10 miles from their homes. This was a right won after one hundred years of struggle by indentured workers; since, if the workers were to spend hours getting to and from the site of labour, their working day would extend long beyond their stipulated hours of labour. Not surprisingly, the cane-cutters of Wales rejected the order and demanded their severance payments. This the Government has denied them, and in effect has ironically taking those workers back to the days of indentureship, even though the cessation of that “bound labour” occurred exactly 100 years ago.Wales also had the largest percentage of cane farmers contributing to the cane intake of the factory — one-third — and the Government promised their canes would be transported to Uitvlugt. However, there was no direct road for tractors to use in pulling the laden punts; and even though this was promised, a year later, nothing has been done. In the meantime, the farmers’ canes have been left standing in the fields and losing their sucrose content. The Government does not even mention the status of this road anymore.The Government spoke glibly about “diversifying” the 14,000 acres at Wales by leasing land to the unemployed workers to cultivate “other” crops. In their recently released “White Paper” on the sugar industry, which was remarkable for its brevity and vagueness, the Government mandated: “crop types to be decided by GUYSUCO and the Ministry of Agriculture.” This is a most regressive step, since it unrealistically assumes that, without any coordination, cane workers with absolutely no farming experience will be able to successfully introduce new crops into the domestic and foreign markets.At this time, there has been no attempt by the Government to engage the unemployed workers in going forward with their “diversification” panacea. Concerned Guyanese have been forced to start delivering “care packages” and “hampers” of food to the Wales residents. The other estates to be closed should be forewarned.last_img

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