Some former Wales sugar workers and their families yesterday called for government support due to the toll that the closure of the estate has taken on them and the community.
“The situation for the people and the villages linked to Wales Estate remains bleak and uncertain. It is steadily growing worse and suffering is growing by the day. The future for the people, especially the youth, is not encouraging. It is difficult for us to imagine the hardships that would befall the people in the weeks and months that lie ahead. Many of us wonder every day if this is the ‘good life’ we were promised,” Gordon Thomas, a former tug operator, told reporters at the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) head office in Kingston.
Thomas said they are willing to accept subsidies for their utilities, such as water and electricity, and any other form of assistance that will help them and their families.
He was part of a group comprising both ex-workers and the spouses of ex-workers who related the effect of the closure of the estate, which they said has impacted thousands of ordinary, hard-working Guyanese.
“Today, the sad reality is that the Government and the Guyana Sugar Corpora-tion (GuySuCo) have forcibly taken our livelihoods from us. In that process, they have sought to take away our dignity and our pride. We have had our dreams shattered and our hopes for a better tomorrow dashed,” he said, while claiming that the “once vibrant” Wales community is a far cry from how it has been just a year ago.
Thomas said that since the closure of the estate, many of the ex-employees have been unable to find jobs, which has been making it difficult for them to sustain their families.
As a result, he said the community has since been filled with higher unemployment, and an increase in crime and other anti-social behaviour.
According to Thomas, even those workers who have received severance from GuySuCo are starting to find it difficult to maintain their families since “those pitiful sums are quickly drying up as we are facing rising living costs to meet life’s basic necessities.”
“Certainly the grave situation will grow graver in the weeks and months ahead and the people will find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place,” he added, while pointing out that the situation has opened doors for domestic problems in households, since most persons have their backs against the wall.
A housewife, Salima Bacchus, who said she was representing her husband, supported Thomas’ point and said that since the estate’s closure, she has found it increasingly difficult to manage and balance her everyday expenses.
“Since the estate close, we find it real difficult because we have children going to school. We have bills to pay and they have exams coming up and every day the child goes and do assignments, so we have to find money for assignments. You know it’s really hard for us as housewives because we are not getting money. How can we afford these things?” the woman said.
Another housewife expressed similar sentiments and explained that she finds it difficult every day to send her children to school.
They said the drastic slowdown in the flow of money in the community has contributed to an increase in criminal activities, such as petty crime. They said that persons are being forced to use unlawful and immoral means to obtain money to survive and feed their families.
With respect to those workers who have not yet received their severance payments due to an ongoing challenge by GAWU to GuySuCo in court, Thomas said that they are very disappointed that there has been no progress with the case, given its significance and importance to a large population of citizens.
He also said that even though President David Granger had said that the matter had been referred to Agriculture Minister Noel Holder in August, they “have not heard a word” from him in over two months. As a result, Thomas said that the workers are of the opinion that Granger owes them a proper response.
Head of GAWU Komal Chand, who was also present, stated that the union did the right thing by taking the matter to court. However, he said it was hoping that the move would have led to the government paying the workers and not having them wait until the court case concludes. “As such, we are asking for perpetual financial support down the road,” Chand said.
Thomas said that while the workers were promised that the estate would benefit from a diversification plan, which would involve aquaculture, rice and other things, this has not been realised.
“For cane farmers the situation is equally as terrible. Many farmers who had invested large sums in the farms have been forced to abandon their plots. The road to take the farmers’ canes from as far as Free and Easy, several miles south of the Wales factory, to Uitvlugt Estate, is yet to begin,” Thomas said, while highlighting that the gantry to facilitate the discharge of farmers’ cane at Uitvlugt remains incomplete.
While the sugar company has been encouraging workers from Wales to take up jobs at Uitvlugt, Romaine Charles, who had worked with the company for more than two decades, says that persons are not getting full-time jobs and the investment of time to get to the estate is not worth the money that they are being paid.
“They claim that they providing jobs but two or three days and nobody in Wales going to work because they don’t have anything available. It’s terrible conditions too because many days is two tonnes or two and a half tonnes of cane you have to wuk with and you have to leave at 5 and coming back at 7. For what? $2,500 or $3,000 a day? That can’t compensate you for leaving you house so early and coming back so late,” Charles said.