With Rose Hall layoffs, fears become reality for sugar workers, businesses

Rose Hall sugar workers yesterday protested outside of the Auchlyne Primary School, Corentyne over the layaoff of 400 of their number by GuySuCo this week. The target of their protests was Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo who was at an event at the school.

Dreading expected layoffs from the Rose Hall sugar estate, driver Kumar Ghanpat, 34, worries that if he loses his job, he will have to pull his three children from school.

“I studying me… children. I does work hard to send them to school because I want them get a education and do good in life, but if me ain’t get job they have to come out school. I don’t know what gone happen yet,” Ghanpat, whose children are 10, eight and four years, stressed, while fighting back tears yesterday.

Ghanpat, of Number Two Village, East Canje, is one of hundreds of workers who face redundancy as the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) moves forward with plans to close the estate. 

Over 400 workers on Wednesday received letters notifying them that they will be without a job at the end of the month and hundreds more are expected to receive letters by mid-December.

Ghanpat explained that at midyear, after realising that the closure might actually become a reality, he began applying for jobs elsewhere. He said he has applied to 11 companies for work but has not gotten a response.

For Ghanpat and other Rose Hall sugar workers, their worst fears have been realised. According to the workers, they were asked to attend a meeting at the Welfare Community Centre, where officials handed some 400 workers letters, titled ‘Junior Staff Redundancy Notification.’ Their last working day is December 29th.

“The Corporation has given consideration to the option of you continuing in a similar job within the organisation. However, there is no suitable vacancy to accommodate you,” the letters stated.

As a result, they added, “the Corporation can no longer provide the employees with regular employment at the Estate and therefore, in accordance with Section 12, subsection (2) (a), (b) and (c) of the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act 1997, the corporation wishes to inform you that your job is being made redundant.”

Workers, who were gathered at the estate to receive their weekly salary yesterday afternoon, were confused and saddened at this decision by the sugar corporation and the government.

One worker, who received a letter, said that he is unsure where to begin to find a new job, while noting that the closure of the estate was something he feared. “It na look like them care about abie, abie got to go look other work now fa feed abie family,” the Canje father of nine explained.

Sookram Satrohan, also known as ‘Bertie,’ 46, a cane harvester of Adelphi Village, East Canje, stated that while he had not received a letter as yet, he is scared of what he will do if he does. “The whole Canje gon be affected,” the father of two said.

Deonarine Moonsammy, of Canefield, Canje, said he was mostly worried about the young workers who took loans from banks to build houses or purchase vehicles. “They have to try and pay their loans or they will get nuff problems,” he noted.

Inderjeet Persaud, 50, a cane harvester, said that he believes GuySuCo is not thinking before making decisions. He explained that hundreds of “young workers,” who are now building their lives, received letters of redundancy and they will be the ones to be most affected. He also made a personal call to Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo to intervene on behalf of the sugar workers.

Workers also complained that although some will be “placed” to work at the Albion Estate or Blairmont Estate, they have yet to receive any word, resulting in their uncertainty. “Them na even keep meeting with us and tell us what will happen. How we must decide what we want do? Yes, we want keep we job but suppose them send we Albion and send pressure and we na able with the job? We gon got to lef ourself and na end up with nothing in the end,” a bell loader operator said.

He stated that he believes GuySuCo needs to hold meetings with individual gangs and provide them with the necessary information on the way forward. “When you ask them boss here them ain’t know nothing,” he noted. “How we gon’ know if we getting operator work or what we got to do, nobody telling we nothing,” he added.

The Golden Om Dharmic Youth Organisation, in light of the redundancy letters, has decided to offer free counselling to all sugar workers.

Economic impact

The layoffs come despite a recent statement by Minister of State Joseph Harmon indicating that the closure of the estate, which was slated for the end of this year, would not have occurred until next year.

As a result, Region Six Chairman David Armogan told a press briefing yesterday said that either Harmon did not understand the government’s position at that time or he misled the people.

Armogan also noted that the letters the workers received stated that they would receive severance pay, but no date was provided. “People are extremely worried. A lot went home crying. People called me saying their husbands are shattered, their children are shattered,” he stressed.

The chairman also charged that union representatives are being targeted at the estate.  “Almost all union reps receive letters with other workers. They are trying to destroy the union,” he said.

Armogan also warned of the economic implications the closure of the estate would have on the Canje area. He noted that sugar workers from Rose Hall estate live and shop in and around the Canje area. “If people ain’t spend money, shops will close,” he said, while adding that persons will also resort to migrating out of the region and country. “It’s not looking good for the region,” he said.

Touching on the proposed plan for a skills training programme for the workers who will be laid off, Armogan called the idea “no good.” He pointed out that hundreds of students are graduating from the University of Guyana’s Tain Campus but jobs are not available for them either. He said, “Training them is good but where will you get jobs for them from?”

Meanwhile, business owners within Canje told Stabroek News yesterday that the closure of the Rose Hall Estate ultimately means the closure of their businesses. While most were hesitant to go on record, one shop owner, Maniram Takchand, 50, from Canefield, East Canje said, “Business very bad now and when this estate close, my business will collapse.” He added, “I sorry for the workers and sorry for myself too.”

Takchand, who runs a grocery store, stated that as a business owner he was also worried about the crime rate escalating.

He noted that while business owners would want to assist with employing some workers, “I don’t think there is enough employment in the entire Berbice.”

Another business owner from Adelphi, Canje, who asked not to be named out of fear of being victimized, said most of his customers are sugar workers and as a result he does not expect that his business will be successful next year.

A business owner, of Cumberland Village, East Canje, went further as she noted that she strongly believes that her business will come to an end. “I done thinking about writing off. Let me tell you: I does open 5 am every day. Them estate truck does stop here, them does buy bread, cigarette, cake, drinks all thing. One worker does buy two times a day from me. What will happen to my business when these people can’t get money to buy?” she questioned.

A businessman of Cumberland Village added that his business will meet the same fate once the workers are unemployed. “Did they not think how this would affect us, the business people, plus the workers and everyone else before making this decision?” was the question on his mind when this publication visited yesterday afternoon.

A liquor shop owner in Reliance spoke briefly with this publication and noted that he is already thinking of closing down his business since most of his customers are sugar workers. He said, “If I buy more stock and people na go come buy rum now, them go try save them lil bit money, how me go back for the stock? All these things we got to think about.”

A Chinese national, who presently resides in Reliance and operates a restaurant, said he was not sure if his restaurant will be open come 2018. A relative of the man said that they are considering closing down. He noted that they have started families in Berbice, Guyana, but now have to consider whether they would want to return home or seek employment from other persons. “I’m 90% sure our business might not survive,” the relative said.

Everybody affected

Additionally, vendors who sell at the Rose Hall Canje Market noted that they will also have to seek other employment, since it is unlikely they will get sales at that location. One vendor said, “Them workers does buy from we. Where we gon go sell now? This affecting everybody, everybody.”

A driver/salesman, Fitzroy Khargie, 35, of Belvidere, Corentyne said unemployment will drastically affect the communities in Berbice. “People won’t have employment and will be force to find an income and may turn to crime,” he explained.

Hire care drivers have also spoken out about being affected by the closure of the Rose Hall estate. Suresh Singh, of Canefield, Canje, said, “I operate a taxi and if the workers na get money for them families travel, how me go get money?” Singh noted that he has a son and his wife is currently pregnant. As a result, he is worried about how he will be able to take care of his family once the estate is closed.

Another Canje driver, Naresh Persaud, said, “I don’t know how we gon survive in Canje when people go stop travel.” Suraj Deochand explained that he bought his car on a loan from the bank. He said he is worried how he will be able to make his monthly payments once the estate is officially closed and workers along with their families begin to travel less.

Chairman of the Canefield-Enterprise Neighbourhood Democratic Council Yedash Causeway, when contacted, stated that it is very heartbreaking to see the closure of the Rose Hall estate come to pass. It is “a place that has for many decades provided jobs for thousands in the Canje Area and villages beyond such as Susannah Village, Number 19 Village, and the entire East Bank Berbice,” he noted.

Causeway said he visited homes of several sugar workers and they expressed their frustration at the closure. “It is hard to listen to the cries, especially of the children who are trying their best in schools,” he added.

According to Causeway, one worker related to him that he was preparing to support his son to attend the University of Guyana, but after receiving his letter he can no longer fulfill his son’s dream.  He then called on the government to rethink their decision.

Karamchand Sugrim, 18, who is attached to Doctor Sugrim Medical Clinic on the Corentyne, related that he wanted to start the University of Guyana in September. However, after talk of the closure, he had to take a step back, since he was unsure if his father would have been able to financially support him. He said, “With this decision the government is depriving youths to be educated.” He added, “Many of us will be left stuck; its puzzling me as to if I will ever become a doctor, I hope the president is aware of what he is doing to the youths in Berbice.”

In addition to the number of persons laid off at Rose Hall Estate, more than 250 workers are expected to be made redundant by December 9 at the Enmore Estate as the sugar company continues its scaling down. Thousands more workers are expected to be made redundant within the coming months. Hundreds have already been laid off from the Wales Estate.

The government has been criticised for not having alternatives for the sugar workers who are being laid off. The announcement of the layoffs comes just days after the presentation of the 2018 budget.

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