Sacked Sugar Workers face uphill battle to make ends meet

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By Devina Samaroo

Sacked sugar workers continue to complain of distressing times as they face an uphill battle to make ends meet after the closure of estates across the country.

At a press conference hosted by their union – the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) – on Wednesday eight retrenched workers, flanked by a handful of colleagues, told of the struggles they are enduring despite having received severance.

The former workers bemoaned the fact that their families are falling apart and cried of difficulties in finding jobs and investment opportunities.

“Getting leff”

According to Mark Salmon – a former worker of the Wales Sugar Estate – instances of wives leaving their husbands are prevalent in the community.

Mark Salmon

“Sometime yuh wife gon go wake up 6 ‘o’ clock to look for a job and the people them where she working hustling she more than you. They tryna fuh tek way you wife cause she nice. That’s the disadvantage that we getting as poor people right now,” Salmon expressed.

He added: “I have some friends, them man wife left them cause we hardly getting jobs.”

Salmon complained of the unfairness in not yet receiving his severance even though the estate was closed down more than a year ago.

“Things hard, if we go out and get a lil porter work and you get a lil $2500 and you get that for two weeks and the next week they rest you, you can’t really get to manage yourself,” he explained.

Michael Chatoo informed the news conference that it is extremely challenging for him to provide for his family.

“I got pickney going to school and everyday they coming home saying ‘daddy, look this paper, I have to go do assignment for $200 and $300’. I can’t afford it. From 2016 to now, I can’t afford it. Me wife go away and lef me for the same thing,” he related.

“Bills ah raise”

Chatoo also complained of the rising cost of living and declining spending power in communities affected by estate closures.

“You got light bills to pay, you got water bill raise $500 more. I got mortgage to pay. How I could pay that?”

A visibly distraught Glendon Grant, who worked at the Rose Hall Estate for more than two decades, raised similar concerns.

Glendon Grant

“Starvation might kill me soon. It rough. People nah get work. Tax ah raise, bills ah raise and you nah get work. How you gon live?”

No jobs, investment opportunities

According to Grant, with hundreds of unskilled people unemployed at a time when the economy is struggling to perform, it is a distressing journey to find a job.

“In the Berbice area, you nah get work. Right now it got some store in New Amsterdam, if six persons ah work, three of them work the first half of the week and three will work the other half. That’s how people living. So where abbi gonna find work? Over 900 of we get redundant from Rose Hall, where abbi gonna find work for 900 people?” Grant explained.

Herlene Lewis, who worked at the Skeldon Estate, explained that the severance received per person is not enough to invest in a viable venture as is being suggested by those in the Government and at the helm of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).

Herlene Lewis

She explained that if all the money is pumped down a business idea, then families will be left with no money to sustain their livelihoods.

Lewis further noted that: “Even if we invest we money, it wouldn’t last long. We will still need a job because who will buy from who? Because business is slow and everybody just crying out at Skeldon.”

Grant endorsed the sentiments expressed by his colleague, noting that he plans on keeping his money in the bank, stretching every dollar, until he can land a job.

“We can’t afford to invest it [severance]. You can’t afford to do nothing because you have to secure it [money] to secure yourself. You have to pay for your children to go to school, you can to live on it, you can’t invest it,” he explained.

Frustration

Glenn McCloud, who worked at the Rose Hall Estate, said the lives of retrenched sugar workers can be characterized by depression and frustration.

“Nothing hurt a man or a family more than when you kid wake up a morning and cry, and when you look at them and can’t do anything. You know what is depression? You know what is frustration? It’s a disease all by itself. It eats you physically, spiritually and mentally,” McCloud stated.

Glen McCloud

McCloud also criticized the training initiatives being undertaken by GuySuCo.

“GuySuCo telling people on the TV how they educating people…they gonna come and tell me at my age, at 55, that they gonna teach me to do carpentry and masonry and plumbing. All those houses already have carpentry and masonry and plumbing done on them,” he stated.

Reopen estates

The sacked sugar workers all have one plea, which is, for the Government to strongly consider reopening the estates.

State Minister Joseph Harmon recently disclosed that the estates could be reopened by the Special Purpose Unit (SPU) which was set up to divest the sugar estates as they look to find investors.

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