‘We could breathe with some comfort again’
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Vice-President, Bharrat Jagdeo, addressing sugar workers on Monday in Skeldon, East Berbice Corentyne 
Vice-President, Bharrat Jagdeo, addressing sugar workers on Monday in Skeldon, East Berbice Corentyne 

— retrenched sugar workers welcome $1.8B package announced by gov’t

SUGAR workers retrenched by the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Government have expressed gratitude to the Dr Irfaan Ali Administration for recognising their plight and brining much-needed relief to them.

On Monday, Vice-President, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo, announced that retrenched GuySuCo workers will receive an additional $250,000 on their severance by January 2022.

“By January or so, each sugar worker, each sugar worker who was severed, would also get another $250,000 on their severance. That would be between $1.7 and $1.8 billion, because we have 7,000 workers who were severed who will all get that. It was a great injustice and many people stood out there and remained silent. Many of them to justify the action of APNU because of politics,” Jagdeo said, but noted that the People’s Progressive Party stood resolutely in the corner of the workers.

The announcement by the Vice-President was met with excitement and renewed hope and this was the talk of the town on Tuesday amongst the former workers.

Speaking with the Guyana Chronicle, many of the affected workers told of the despair and untold hardship they have endured since being retrenched following the closure of the Skeldon Estate by then APNU+AFC Government.

Some 7,500 workers were sent packing by the previous administration following the closure of the Skeldon, Rose Hall and Wales estates. The workers, who toiled in the industry for most of their lives, were given a severance by the David Granger Administration but after a long wait. The sum given to them only lasted a short while as the workers were unable to find stable employment and this led to many social issues, including broken families.

The good gesture by the PPP/C Government the retrenched workers said could not have come at a more opportune time as many have lost hope.
They are still struggling to land steady jobs and get their lives back on track having being firstly laid off, unable to find employment, struggling to survive in the pandemic and then having their crops destroyed by the recent flood.

Devindra Ramlall of Number 64 village, who worked as a ‘chain link operator’ in the industry for 17 years, said he lost his family after he was unable to get a job and fulfill his obligations as the breadwinner.

He noted prior to being laid off, his life was comfortable and he was happy being surrounded by his family. However, all of that changed when he received his severance letter and months later after not finding a stable job and being unable to provide a steady income, his wife of 17 years decided to part ways and took his two children with her since she could no longer wonder whether they will have anything throughout the day to eat when the morning arrives.

WORST IN MY LIFE
He said those moments were the worst in his life, and after struggling for three years, he managed to find a job as security guard. He noted also he still supports his children, so he had to work two jobs to maintain them.

In the mornings, he would work with his local Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) as a labourer while in the night he works as a security guard for a school.

On Monday, Ramlall was at the meeting with the Vice-President at Skeldon when the announcement was made. He said at first, he did not quite understand what was happening amid the excitement but after it was explained to him, he said he felt a sense of ease throughout his body.

“Things have been so hard; I don’t ever want to relive those moments. The severance I get help me for a couple morning to maintain the family but when it done, and me and my first wife separate in January 2018, I was at my lowest. Now after three years I am finally trying to get a lil stable job and I remarry but things still tight and this money will definitely make the New Year bright and give me motivation to live and continue,” he said.
According to Ramlall, he will put the money to good use when he receives it.

Malcolm Maltay, a 26-year-old mechanic, who started his career at the Skeldon Estate in 2012 and was hoping to remain there until he reached the age of retirement.

RESURGENCE OF HOPE
But his hopes were dashed when he received the severance letter. He related that he lost all hope and went down a dark period where he occasionally took construction work as a labourer just to get money for personal items. However, after the change in government recently and the announcement that the estates will be re-opening, he felt a resurgence of the drive and positive energy he had previously and managed to land a steady job. Now with the announcement of the additional severance payout, he is even more excited and optimistic and expressed thanks to the government for recognising the struggles of the retrenched workers.

Like, Ramlall he is also hoping to put the money to good use.
Simon Peter Alexander Hazel, 40, of Lot 413, Number 76 Housing Scheme and a father of four, said he worked for 17 years as a cane harvester before being laid off. He was the last Champion Worker for the Skeldon Estate and sees this payout as more than deserving and long overdue.
“It was real sad when we got that letter. I don’t go backdam to play you know.

I used to work six days per week cause Saturday I go to church, but I didn’t wake up one morning and say I gottta get champion this year, I just put in the work. When I received that letter I ask myself how ends gonna meet? ‘cause I get a mortgage and four children but God see us through so far and I consider myself lucky cause I still have my family unlike many of my friends. This payout is good and we deserve it, cause it ain’t easy being a cane harvester and trying to find a job. The struggle real. I happy we gun get the money and I know for plenty people that get lay off since then them ain’t even see that kind a money, so thank you for this.”

For Kingsley Clarke, 57, life has not been easy since he became unemployed. He noted he spent more than half his life as an employee of the Skeldon Estate as a punt dumper operator and had to turn to subsistence farming in order to make ends meet after being laid off. Clarke explained that from 2017 to now he has been seeking employment but to no avail. He started to plant his kitchen garden to secure his meals and built a small roadside stand where he sells the surplus along with icicles and snacks just to get an income. When he heard of the payout, he said he felt a heavy load lifted from his chest and he could not help himself from smiling.

CAN’T STOP SMILING
“To say things tough is not enough. I tell you I struggle real bad. I lost a lot personally and otherwise. I was raised tough and through patience I am surviving. When I hear about this money I only hope I live to get it ‘cause God knows it will do wonders for me. I trying hard to get a job even now because I need a steady income and even register to work at the estate again when it re-open cause I know with a job at GuySuCo I don’t have to worry. I can’t stop smile and I know plenty people done plan what to do with them money too.”

Meanwhile, the Guyana Agriculture and General Workers Union (GAWU), praised the announcement by Vice- President Jagdeo.
“The support by the government is welcomed and seeks to correct the injustice and indignation the workers and their families confronted following the callous minimisation of the sugar industry.

“Indeed, the government must have taken account of the socio-economic tribulations that the workers encountered following estate closure. As the ILO study on the impact of estate closure outlined, the pangs of hardship and despair confronted a great lot of our Guyanese brothers and sisters.

That study confirmed that the workers and their families lives and well-being were significantly setback and indeed some may never be able to make up the ground that they lost. As GAWU said then and reiterates again, the decision to shutter estates has no sincere economic or social rationale. We contend that it was an undisguised attempt to punish sugar workers and the sugar industry.”

However, GAWU also urge the government to consider extending its support to all sugar workers, noting it will help to alleviate the many burdens the workers had to contend with during the term of the Coalition tenure in office.

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