Despite vacancies being advertised for the Uitvlugt Estate Improvement Programme (UEIP), manager, Yudhisthira Mana is still encouraging the cane-harvesters and cane transporter operators from the Wales estate to “come on board.”
The Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) is investing $1.5B in the UEIP and would be leasing half of it cultivation to private farmers who would be supplying cane to the factory.
In an interview with Stabroek News (SN), Mana said: “this would be an opportunity that they (workers) should not miss,” especially when it is so difficult for them to seek employment elsewhere.
According to him, it is important for them to join the workforce at Uitvlugt because it has started the process of increasing the production of sugar from 20,000 tonnes to 40,000 tonnes.
He emphasized that the workers would still remain on the Wales estate payroll and that they would be provided with transportation to and from work daily.
With regards to the workers refusing to travel the distance to Uitvlugt based on the 10-mile radius stipulated in the Termination of Employment & Severance Pay Act, Mana said they would be paid a two-hour disturbance allowance.
He said too that the traveling is “nothing new” and “nothing too big to ask” because over 50 workers have been traveling to Uitvlugt.
Besides, he pointed out, workers would travel long distances to assist the other estates. For instance, he said, the Wales workers would be sent to the Enmore estate, those from Blairmont would work at Uitvlugt and the workers from Skeldon would work at the Blairmont estate.
The workers are however, insisting that it is their right to receive severance payments and that even if GuySuCo pays them and their services are terminated, the corporation can re-employ them.
But GuySuCo and the government are bent on not paying the workers, saying that they do not have the finances to do so and that the workers “cannot have it both ways.”
Through newspaper advertisements, GuySuCo called on people living in the West Demerara area to take the opportunity to be part of the UEIP.
GuySuCo has advertised 406 vacancies in the agriculture department for 298 cane harvesters, 48 planters, 15 chemical weed control hands, 12 rangers and seven harvesting support hands, six field inspection/agronomy hands, six pest control hands, five shovel men, five fertilizer hands and four cane transport operators.
Mana said that to meet the target of 40,000 tonnes of sugar by 2020, the estate has started to revise its layout and cane supply.
Unfortunately for this year, the estate only produced 7,000 tonnes of sugar for the first crop but it is expected to have a larger production of 20,178 tonnes for the second half of 2017.
He said while it would be a challenge to achieve the 40,000 tonnes by 2020 it can happen with the support of the workers and farmers and with the revamping that is already taking place at the estate.
Mana explained that the amount of cane could be reached under a threefold arrangement; from the estate, leasing of a portion of land to private farmers and from farmers on the West Bank.
He explained that the estate owns 6,000 hectares but is currently cultivating 3,000 hectares, while private farmers have already been planting some 750 hectares.
The estate is also in the process of giving out leases for the rest of the land to other farmers.
With regards to the road from West Bank, Mana said that work on the main access has not yet started but a temporary arrangement would be made from Pumpkin Dam in Canal No 1 Polder for farmers to transport their cane.
He said that access was used before for farmers to deliver cane to the Leonora estate and needs upgrading. A bridge would also be rebuilt for the farmers to access the Uitvlugt estate as well as parking for the cane carts.
He said farmers from Canal No 1 Polder have been supplying cane to Uitvlugt “but most of their cane would be ripe in the second half of the year.”
The work on the bridge is expected to commence by this month end and be completed in time for the start of the second crop.
As for the main access dam, referred to as Pear Dam, GuySuCo would have to construct four flat and high bridges. There would also be an upgrading of the drainage systems.
Mana told this newspaper that work is ongoing at the site to accommodate the cane gantry, which has been removed from the Wales estate. The installation should be completed at Uitvlugt by mid-August.
He said Uitvlugt was always known to be a “wet estate” and has suffered a lot of flooding due to poor drainage. They have had almost 10 inches of rainfall within two weeks and that has affected the crop.
Upgrading of the drainage structure has started and there has been significant improvement with the yield, he said.
Other aspects of the improvement plan include sanitation within the fields, improving cane growth and rehabilitation of dams and clogged waterways where the punts traverse.
Government has scaled down to three estates under its diversification and divestment plans and Uitvlugt as well as Albion and Blairmont estates in Berbice have been selected to remain in operation.
Meanwhile, Mana who has served as manager for the Uitvlugt estate for one and half years, said the work on the drainage started after it was recognized that it was contributing to poor yields.
He said similar upgrading work was also done at the Blairmont and Albion estates under his management and the performance at those estates has improved significantly.