With the expected closure of the Enmore sugar factory approaching, residents and businesses of the East Coast of Demerara community are fearful of a drastic economic slowdown and a bleak future for the village.
GuySuCo announced last month that some 2,500 workers would be retrenched across the industry by the end of the year and the focus would be placed on the Blairmont, Albion, and Uitvlugt estates.
As a result, some 250 sugar workers from Enmore are expected to be without a job from December 8.
Community leader and activist Taajnauth Jadunauth is warning of the impact as a result of the imminent retrenching of the workers.
“There is an economic impact, that is, in terms of people’s ability to earn and their ability to spend. But there is also an in-house impact, meaning that things families were accustomed to enjoying by virtue of earnings would not be possible anymore and will affect their way of living. You reduce income and there’s a reduction in comforts,” Jadunauth told Stabroek News.
As a result, he said, there is going to be a major psychological impact on the retrenched workers and their households. Giving an example, he explained that some parents will no longer be able to afford to send their children to school in town and will be forced to make accommodations for them at schools that are closer to their homes, which may affect academic performances.
“That child now has a stigma, if not in someone else’s mind then in his or her own and it’s called self-stigma. The parents are not earning and, therefore, there is this living standard that they used to enjoy, which can’t be enjoyed anymore, and it puts the family and the children and the youths of the community in a negative psychological situations,” Jadunauth noted, while explaining that even though the parents may have savings and severance payments to fall back on, eventually it will dry up, forcing the families to live uncomfortably.
He said the situation also creates an environment for an increase in domestic violence in families.
“The whole aspect of peoples’ pride is going to be hit. It’s much more than an economic impact. While it has colours of economic impact, there is also the extension of psychological, social, cultural and peoples’ living habits that will take a hit. Those 250 employees who are going to be put on the breadline and their families will feel it almost immediately,” Jadunauth highlighted.
He also highlighted that sport in the community will be affected, since maintenance of infrastructure will be reduced and places like the community ground will be left at the mercy of nature. Even sports clubs, which require monetary subscriptions, will decrease, since the cash flow in the community is expected to fall drastically, he added.
According to one businessman, who has operated in the community for decades, he is expecting at least a 40% slowdown within the first six months after the retrenchment. The man, who did not want to be named, explained that he used the past several months, which have seen the stagnation of operations at the East Demerara sugar estates due to protests, as a yardstick.
He said business had slowed down throughout the entire community and while it did not have much of an impact on him, smaller businesses suffered.
“We had people going around the place searching for jobs and business was slow. I used that time to draw a conclusion and I can tell you it is going to be much worse,” he said.
Other businessmen and shop owners also related similar sentiments and explained that their businesses have already started to hurt.
“People are already watching how they are spending and are picking. They are only buying things that are necessary because everyone knows how much of an impact the move is going to have on the community on the whole,” one of the shopkeepers related.
Most of the residents are opposed to the closing of the estate and the laying off of workers and Jadunauth added that he believed that sugar is still viable if it is managed properly. He said that the industry has caused its own downfall because of mismanagement and the focus has to be shifted from sugar production itself towards correcting management issues.
“Nature has a way of revolting against you. If cane has to be cultivated in a particular manner and you shortcut it, then you will get shortchanged results at the end of the day,” he emphasised, while pointing out that if cane is to be revisited, then it needs to be done the traditional way and shortcuts should be avoided.
“If you have a track record of success, then you should examine it and then begin to analyse it. The decision makers do not want to admit the mistakes they have made,” he said.
When questioned about the viability of the private sector investing in Wales, Jadunauth said he was fond of the idea and he is of the opinion that it could work, even if the decision is taken to keep planting sugar.
“…But they will have to go back to traditional methods of doing it properly and managing it properly – people, equipment and field management. I still feel sugar can do well in this country and it can still make money. I still think that after research, cane sugar is the best sugar in the world,” he said.
If the Enmore Estate is privatised and production is shifted from sugar, Jadunauth says it must be done in a way that will help to retain the retrenched workers.
“The spillage effects are numerous. If money doesn’t circulate then the society is dead. Transportation, clothing, food, education, infrastructure, everything is dead. The effects will be felt a year after and the pain will step in,” he said, while stating that the imminent effects on the community can be noted from how other communities have fallen after GuySuCo’s withdrawal.
“You don’t reinvent the wheel, you improve the wheel. Sugar is there. Sugar has life. In private control, I believe there is enough discipline and it can be improved. The sugar workers are prepared to change because the spectre of not working is haunting them more than getting a job and doing it better. It’s a wakeup call for them and they are scared,” he noted, while adding that there is a high possibility that the private sector could be the saviour of the industry and communities such as Enmore in the near future.
“If nothing different happens, I see Enmore in shit. If nothing is injected and everything is taken away, what will come out of that?” he questioned, while stating that the available economic opportunities are very limited in the community.
As a result, Jadunauth said he does not predict any big economic development in the community, since there is nothing new that can be injected.
According to Jadunauth, many of the workers have already received their dismissal letters.
The sugar company had explained to Stabroek News that it is working on a community resilience programme and an alternative livelihood initiative, which are aimed at assisting the sugar dependent communities with mitigating the impact of the closure of estates. The programmes will feature retraining of workers and providing retrenched workers with job opportunities. It is unclear when these initiatives will be launched.