In its budget proposal for 2018, the union grouping, FITUG has called on the Government to halt plans to close and sell sugar estates and it also wants the income tax threshold raised from $60,000 per month to $100,000.
FITUG, which comprises the sugar unions GAWU and NAACIE among others, met with Minister within the Ministry of Finance, Jaipaul Sharma on Monday, at the Ministry’s invitation, on proposals it wished to have included in the 2018 National Budget.
In its proposal released to the media on Tuesday, FITUG called on the Government to seriously re-examine its plans especially given what it said was the “sad reality of Wales”.
The sugar industry has racked up large losses in recent years while production has slumped.
Annual subventions from the state have become necessary to keep GuySuCo afloat. Government’s announcement in January 2016 of the closure of sugar cultivation at Wales by the end of that year had sent shock waves through the industry and eventually saw hundreds of job losses. The government has since also signaled its intention to privatize the Skeldon estate and to end cultivation at the Rose Hall and East Demerara estates.
In addition to staying the closures, FITUG called on the APNU+AFC government to pursue a socio-economic study of the sugar industry. It said that it strongly believes that such a study is an important pre-requisite in adjudging the future of the sugar industry;
* It also wants a full explanation from GuySuCo regarding the support the government has been providing to the industry in recent times and why even with this support production continues to slide;
* FITUG said it also wants the Government to repatriate, over time, the full sums provided by the sugar industry as Sugar Levy paid between 1976 and 1996 as well as the full disbursements received by the Treasury through the European Union Accompanying Measures programme.
FITUG said that several hundred workers and cane farmers together with their families and the wider community are facing miserable lives following the closure of the Wales estate.
“Now-a-days, the villages have taken on a ghost-like appearance with almost no activity taking place.
Alongside the depressing state, increased criminal activity and other anti-social behaviour is being recorded; there is heightened begging and children’s education is threatened and, in some instances, had to be curtailed.
We are also aware that some homes have broken up. Such an environment is not in the interest of any one, especially the youth”, the union movement said.
It said that despite the much talked about plans by GuySuCo to engage in non-sugar diversification to provide alternative jobs nothing is being done aside from a small experiment with seed paddy cultivation. FITUG said it is particularly worried about what would happen in the coming weeks and months if the situation remains as is.
It called for an income support mechanism to ensure families can meet their obligations and send their children to school and urged an enabling mechanism to promote investment in the area with a view to spur job creation
It also wants the government to establish skills training programmes to allow the former sugar workers and the youth to learn skills that are demanded by the labour market.
It also appealed for counselling and other social programmes to assist in reducing depression and other social anxieties that have gripped the people.
Among other proposals, FITUG urged:
* Introduction of tax relief for taxpayers with dependents;
* Removing the 1/3 tax threshold for income earners who earn in excess of $180,000 per month and having a second tax tier set at $250,000 per month at a chargeable rate of 40 per cent;
* Removing of the Value Added Tax (VAT) on electricity, water, private health care and private education;
As it relates to protecting the vulnerable and elderly, FITUG urged that the Government positively considers:
* Increasing the rate of Old Aged Pension to $30,000 per month from the current $19,000 per month;
* Reintroducing electricity and water subsidies for Old Age Pensioners;
* Utilizing the Government school buses, when not transporting students, to transport pensioners to uplift their pensions and to visit hospitals, health centres, etc;
* Examining the introduction of 24-hour state-operated day care for single parents, and
* Improving the rate of public assistance from $7,500 to $12,000.