Closure of estates coincide with increased suicide
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Planting materials being sown at Uitvlugt (Adrian Narine photo)
Planting materials being sown at Uitvlugt (Adrian Narine photo)

— ILO study finds; report also flag rise in crime, alcohol consumption

A UNITED Nations (UN) study has pointed to an increase in the rates of suicide, crime, and alcohol consumption in communities that relied heavily on the sugar estates for their livelihood that were closed by the Coalition government. “Entire communities were sent into depression,” said local economist, Dr. Thomas B. Singh, who authored the socio-economic impact study which was sponsored by the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO). In 2016 and 2017, the former A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) government moved to close the sugar estates at Wales, Enmore, Rose Hall and Skeldon, citing poor performance of the sugar industry.
The findings of the study, which was released during a virtual forum on Thursday, pointed to the devasting effects that the closures have had on at least 5,000 sugar workers, their families, and their communities.

“The closure was also so disruptive on those economies that the households of many of the affected workers could have been driven into poverty traps,” the report indicated.
The study confirmed that the closures resulted in the drastic decline of sugar workers’ weekly household incomes, which had fallen by 64 per cent, from an average of G$32,238 to G$18,450.
The report further indicated that the majority of dismissed workers were fathers who were the sole breadwinners of their families. “The overall average number of dependents was 5.3, with the average size being largest in Skeldon (6.5) and the lowest being East Coast Demerara (4.2),” the study revealed.

CHILDREN’S ASPIRATIONS SHATTERED

It specified that some 62 per cent of the dismissed workers had children who were still attending school. This meant that the lay offs and dismissals had a direct impact on the academic advancement of the children of sugar workers. “Their career aspirations included becoming teachers, nurses, policemen and doctors,” ILO highlighted.
In cases where persons were still able to send their children to school, they were unable to stand the cost of fees for writing the exams such as those administered by the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC). As the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) government moves ahead with gradually and strategically reopening the estates, the ILO has stressed the need for assistance to be given to the affected families that are still struggling to recover. “Particular support must be provided to those students who were unable to write Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) examinations or were forced to miss classes. Similarly, the increase in alcohol consumption, crime and even suicide will also warrant carefully designed interventions to change the new social norms,” the study recommended.

It warned that the negative impact of the closures might have already taken root in many of the communities.
Further, the report showed that 73.1 per cent of the respondents indicated that members of their communities who used to work with GuySuCo have not been able to find jobs. “This is not surprising, considering the dominance of the sugar estate in the economies of the surrounding communities. It could also mean that, even when the interviews were being conducted, a large fraction of workers were depending on the revitalisation of the sugar industry to provide them with jobs,” the report noted.
Also delivering remarks at the forum was President of the Guyana Agricultural and Workers Union (GAWU), Seepaul Narine, who called on decision makers to carefully consider the recommendations outlined in the report, and to put systems in place to ensure that the livelihoods of the sugar workers are maintained.

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