My father was a cane-cutter and I grew up on a sugar estate. My family experienced untold hardships to make ends meet, which needless to say were never met. Yet we experienced profound joy on certain occasions, mainly when my father drew his back pay, or when there was profit sharing or annual production incentives. At the end of the year, just before Christmas, the payouts were customary, and Bookers and later on GuySuCo made sure that this happened. A payout at Christmas was traditional within the sugar industry. It is deeply entrenched within the psyche of generations of sugar workers. It is indeed ironic that the very government which they voted into power would be instrumental, directly or indirectly, in snatching the joy of Christmas from them, destroying the expectations of their spouses and children.
All other employees will be celebrating their payouts, The Disciplined Services will get an extra month’s pay as bonus, and the teachers and public servants will get their wage increase backdated – but not the sugar workers. What is their cardinal sin? They have not produced enough to meet the target. Have the teachers met their targets (with failures being promoted)? Have all the public servants met their targeted levels of efficiency? (What about the maternal deaths?) Just walk into a government department and you will see the high level of efficiency and productivity. What about the targets of the Disciplined Services? More murders, more domestic violence, more banditry, more rape, more road deaths. Yet everyone was awarded across the board whether they produced or not. This smacks of double standards.
Should the sugar workers be totally blamed for what is happening in the sugar industry? I think not. They are not responsible for the strategies, policies and operation of the industry. Dr Ramsammy is man enough to accept responsibility for his ministry, why not GuySuCo Board of Directors, its management team and its real bosses – the politicians?
They have failed and the sugar workers are mere pawns. If there is a 50% labour turn-out then something is drastically wrong with the reward system within GuySuCo. The private sector is definitely more lucrative. The push and pull factors have natural outcomes.
Lastly, many persons are of the false notion that cane-cutters earn a lot of money. I beg to differ. Commercial banks in this country are reluctant to lend to cane-cutters because the long and low-earning out-of-crop periods turn them into paupers. If the barrels and the US/Canadian dollars don’t come, they starve or go unclothed. In The West on Trial, Cheddi Jagan’s treatise on sugar workers’ sufferings on pages 80-81 cites the Chairman of the Venn Commission of Inquiry (1949) interviewing a sugar worker, who concluded, “The week I buy clothes I cannot buy rations.” From 1949 to 2010 the sugar workers’ plight has not changed much. I know that it is a fact that if a sugar worker has to buy clothes from his weekly wage then his family will eat less. Yet I want to challenge anyone that there are some sugar workers who pay more taxes than some big businessmen who have huge mansions and drive expensive vehicles and for whose children every day is Christmas.
The struggle of the sugar workers will have to continue, because Santa will not come to the rescue and Cheddi is gone.