“Poverty is at our doorsteps” – fired workers plead for stable jobs
Govt’s closure of sugar estates
Even as Government seems to have moved on after closing four sugar estates, shattering the lives of over 7000 workers, these workers are still struggling to find stable jobs.
After garnering the support of workers on the sugar belt at the 2015 elections, the APNU/AFC coalition since taking office has downsized the sugar industry to just three estates – Uitvlugt, Blairmont and Albion— placing over 7000 workers on the breadline.
Although the incumbent Government had promised to find alternative job opportunities and give lands to these displaced workers to sustain themselves and their families, many of them are still struggling to make ends meet daily.
On Tuesday, a number of these still unemployed workers from the closed Wales, East Demerara (Enmore), Rose Hall and Skeldon Estates, pleaded with the public, government, and private sector once again for assistance.
“I used to be an operator at Skeldon, I come out do some nix-nocks job. One day, two day work how much you gonna get? I got two kids to send to school, where I am gonna find that money?”
These were the words Ahmad Ahenodeen, an ex-sugar worker, used to describe the hardship experienced, which is no different from those of many other retrenched sugar workers.
During an engagement with the media at a press conference organised by the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), the displaced workers called for alternative job solutions since, according to them, “poverty is at our doorsteps”.
Ahenodeen told reporters, “I am willing to work but where is the job? There is no job in Berbice. This is not Georgetown that you could run here at some hardware store or some big company…But they need to find some alternative for people working in Berbice, it’s not easy.”
Meanwhile, Samila Bacchus, wife of an ex-sugar worker, explained her fair share of difficulties faced since her husband was sacked.
“If you have to get a work you have to come till in Georgetown and the passage, it don’t work out when the week come so we would, like if we could get something open at Wales…My husband ain’t working, I have children to send to school where will get $18,000 to pay water bill left out light,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of other workers present, Lalloo Tekchand, a sugar worker for 38 years, expressed deep disappointment on the fact that promises of land and training by the incumbent coalition government were never fulfilled. According to Tekchand, these were supposed to make life easier but this is not the case.
Moreover, the former sugar workers contend that the lack of jobs has paved the way for more illegal activities within these communities.
“Drugs is on the increase, because anywhere you turn you see small children coming out of school and smoking and doing things that they not supposed to do because their parents can’t afford to send them to school…everyday people thief at Wales, you hear people lost something,” one worker conveyed.
Insisting that the sugar industry was bleeding the treasury, the coalition government had noted that downsizing the sector will make it more economically viable. However, the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) continues to perform below par, failing to meet its output targets.
Moreover, the sugar corporation has repeatedly cried out about the lack of financing for its operations. This is despite Government securing a $30 billion bond back in 2018 to aid in GuySuCo’s operations.
While the future of the country’s sugar industry remains uncertain, GAWU last month contended that any turnaround plan must include the reopening of those four closed estates.
A promise which the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has made. PPP has criticised the coalition administration for going ahead and closing the four sugar estates without any fact-based approach which included a socio-economic impact study that was recommended by a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) set up by this Government.
According to the Opposition, the closure of these estates created an economic and social vacuum. To this end, the party has promised to re-open the estates should it win the upcoming March 2 elections.