In a shocking story that unveiled in Berbice, this publication reported that redundant workers of the Skeldon Sugar Estate are being charged a fee of $500 to pass through a cultivation dam to catch fish. The fee was being imposed by the Special Purpose Unit, which was set up to oversee the privatisation of the sugar estates. The fired workers, who are now facing major difficulties as they look for new employment, have no other choice than to pay the fee as they seek to earn a daily meal, and in some instances, a daily income. This shattering story is just a microcosm of the harsh and cruel reality hundreds of sugar workers are now forced to endure following the closure of some estates over the past two years. That reality may not have fully resonated or understood by others and maybe by those who made the decision to shut the estates.
Before and after that decision, workers and their families pleaded for it not to be implemented or reversed over fear of the devastating impact it would have on their lives and on thousands more who are indirectly affected.
This newspaper reported another heart-rending story in the later part of 2018, when a 25-year-old of four was quoted as saying, “Sometimes my children wake up in the night hungry and all I can do is cry. Right now, I need a lot of help. I am punishing a lot, because it isn’t easy to raise four children without a job”. She and her 35-year-old husband were former workers at the Skeldon sugar estate which has been closed.
No mother or father can bear the cries of hunger from their children. Those cries are daggers to the heart which worsen when there is no means to offer them a morsel.
That mother who has to hear the cries for food by her children will be broken and traumatised; rendered helpless and stripped of dignity. It’s similar for others like her and for the fathers who become emasculated in such circumstances. That reality has telling effects on the mental state of those affected. Enduring that daily exacerbates that very troubling mindset and the seeming hopeless situation.
The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) was right when it said that such a fee brings additional burden on the already displaced workers and is tantamount to “rubbing salt on a deep wound” of the dismissed sugar workers.
Locally many had spoken about the economic broadside the closure of estates would have on the workers and the surrounding communities of which many have been economically ravished. Fears have since been realised as exemplified by the story of the cold-heartedness of the SPU to charge a fee to these dismissed works and the story of the mother. Even more striking is that Agriculture Minister Noel Holder has washed his hands clean on the matter and has since said that it is unethical for him to comment or intervene in the matter.
The impact has not spared the social fabric of those communities as poverty, crime and depression rise. Many have decried the decision to close the estates without an impact assessment been conducted. It could have provided a similar voice to the ones Senator Flake heard in that elevator and which may have been the proverbial straw that precipitated the responsible position he took.
The SPU’s action to charge the fee also exposes those here who boast of their concern for the welfare of sugar workers and who now have influence and who have closed the door to block the cries from reaching their ears; hence it is still painfully heard in the media.