By Bibi Khatoon
Residents of Wales, especially the housewives and surrounding communities on the West Bank of Demerara are feeling the brunt of the closure of the sugar estate which was their major source of employment. Some housewives and a father of six today spoke of the hardships they are facing in making ends meet, close to one year after.
The mothers and fathers who engaged the media at a press conference hosted by the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) said the level of unemployment on the West Bank of Demerara has caused an increase in crime and decrease in other businesses.
“Since the estate closed, we find it really difficult, because we have children going to school, we have bills to pay, we have exam coming up and every day the child go is a new assignment so we have to find money to do assignment, you know it’s really hard on us, Salima Baksh said.
The woman whose husband, Hasser Bacchus is now unemployed, noted that while her husband is able to work two days per week as a labourer in the community, the money earned is not sufficient to take care of her family.
Bibi Aklima Seepersaud, another housewife, added that “if you willing to do a business, nobody ain’t supporting the business because the finance ain’t coming, people ain’t even want to shop because the children, the expense in the home, the money ain’t coming in so the children and all can’t even get nothing outside…I have a son writing CXC, he got to get SBA books, internet, ink, we can’t get because me ain’t working, the husband ain’t working.”
A former employee of the Wales Sugar estate, Romeo Charles, who has six children, two of whom are writing the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) Examinations next year, says he is struggling to provide for his family.
“Right now everything running flat, people hardly get—me for one, I got six children going to school. I got two daughter that writing exam coming up, me ain’t doing nothing really that say that I can maintain me family. I facing it reasonable hard and when ah say reasonable hard, when the estate was in operation…everybody used to try to live in a way that they could maintain their family and everybody living in order but right now, nothing ain’t doing.”
Some of the workers were offered work at the Uitvlugt Estate on the West Coast of Demerara, while others expressed an interest in receiving their severance pay. However, the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) recently disclosed that of the 375 cane harvesters offered work at Uitvlugt, none turned up, resulting in them losing over G$100M in wages.
But the workers have expressed some concerns, noting that the jobs being offered are tedious and not consistent. Gordon Thomas said the “people who took up work at Uitvlugt, they are not getting a full-time job, they are getting two-day work, three-day work at Uitvlugt because there are not adequate work for the people them, there are only saying that they have job for the people them.”
This was supported by Romeo Charles, who also expressed concerns with the condition under which the employees work. “Is a terrible condition they sending you at Uitvligt to work in. Is not that I never went there and work, I work over 20 years with GuySuCo and…I know
“Is a terrible condition they sending you at Uitvligt to work in. Is not that I never went there and work, I work over 20 years with GuySuCo and…I know wuh is it like to go and work at Uitvlugt because when Wales was in operation, we used to go to Uitvlugt and go assist Uitvlugt and many days is 2 ½ and 2 tonne cane you going and work and you left yuh house 5 ‘o’ clock in the morning, reaching home back 7 ‘o’ clock in the night,” Charles said.
He also alleged that the Corporation pays $2,500 to $3,000 per day to conduct such works. However, in a recent statement, GuySuCo said a few workers who turned up to work last month earns G$4,200 per day.
Prior to the closure of the estate, the Government had stated that it will use the lands at Wales for a diversification project to provide employment for the community.
Subsequently, in February of this year, the Ministry of Agriculture announced that it will make lands available to workers for them to become self-sufficient in farming practices. The lands were earmarked for rice cultivation, possibly aquaculture, the establishment of orchards and dairy farming.
The workers today said, “no land have been leased to people.”
Thomas contended that “I think they call some people and they want to give people land till by—to the last part of the backdam—that is VL. So how could you, if you decide to give land, how could you give people land till at the back of god back.”
To solve some of their issues on a short-term basis, the cane harvesters are still pleading with GuySuCo for their severance pay. Thomas related that the matter was brought up with President David Granger earlier this year and forwarded to the Agriculture Minister but nothing has been done.
The workers are also requesting some support from the Government in the form of electricity and water subsidies.The Wales Sugar Estate was closed at the end of 2016 as the Government said it can no longer afford to finance the operations of the estate. The Ministry of Agriculture had revealed that the investment required to refurbish Wales estate remains significant and the finances are simply not available since diverting funds from the other
The Wales Sugar Estate was closed at the end of 2016 as the Government said it can no longer afford to finance the operations of the estate. The Ministry of Agriculture had revealed that the investment required to refurbish Wales estate remains significant and the finances are simply not available since diverting funds from the other estates to keep Wales afloat would seriously jeopardize the future of those estates.
Earlier this year, the Head of State announced that other estates will be closed to ensure the sustainability of the industry.