‘Now what we going to do?’

-Over 1,000 Enmore sugar workers axed

Some of the sugar workers who are set to be without jobs from next year after they were finished working yesterday. From right are Bharrat Ramjit, Arjoon, Chetram [only name given], and Partab Daby.

“Enmore will suffer. It done. It done deh. It gon’ turn a ghost town,” says Bharrat Ramjit, one of the sugar workers from the Enmore Estate, who will be without a job for the first time in over two decades as GuySuCo has notified 1,100 workers of impending layoffs. “When Friday reach and you stretch you hand, you done know you gon get something. But now what we going to do?” Ramjit, a cane transporter, who has given the sugar industry some 23 years of service, added.

Residents fear that the community, which relied heavily on the sugar industry, is destined for a massive slowdown in business and an increase in domestic violence and petty crime as the estate, which employs thousands of workers from the East Coast community and its surrounding environs, is set to close its doors on December 31.

GuySuCo Public Rela-tions Officer Audreyanna Thomas confirmed to Stabroek News yesterday that the number of employees that will be made redundant by the end of the year stands at approximately 1,100.

Edmond Wilkinson

Already, over 2,000 workers at the Skeldon Estate and over 400 workers at the Rose Hall Estate, both in Berbice, have also received redundancy notices, in keeping with the planned scaling down of the sugar industry. The government and GuySuCo have faced criticism over the failure to put programmes in place to prepare workers, some of whom have had no other occupation, for the transition to life beyond the sugar estates.

After completing another day of work with the uncertainty of his future on his mind, Ramjit explained that he was unsure of what the Christmas season and the new year have in store for him since he will be without a job.

Stabroek News saw one of the letters that has been issued to the workers, notifying them that their last working day is December 31.

“The lil money they gon give nah gon last long. What they gon do after that? People already crying about no jobs and now you got thousands of more people unemployed,” another worker, Arjoon (only name given), said.

“What we gonna do? We have to find something to do ’cause they done give we the letter and we don’t know what to do,” Arjoon, who has been working at the estate for over 23 years added.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding their future, several workers explained that they were more worried about the youths who have been laid off and the large number of families that depend on the earnings of sugar workers.

Edmond Wilkinson, a resident of the community, who also has a son, Kishan, who is currently employed at the estate, said the move by the government is a bad one and will see the community fall from its current glory.

“It’s bad, you know, very bad because at least me ain’t studying about me, me studying about the little ones that coming up. Where they gon go? They gon suffer. Is nah like is hundreds of people, is thousands of people and thousands of families that is going to suffer,” Wilkinson said.

The man, who is currently retired and unemployed, explained that his son, who is only 22-years-old, is the “backbone” of the family.

“Right now, me son working in the estate and he’s a cane transporter. He done get he letter and he’s the backbone of the house here because me ain’t working and me wife ain’t working and is he who working and maintaining my wife and plus he got he wife and he son,” Wilkinson said.

He explained that his son has expressed fear over his future and has related to him on several occasions that he is unsure of what he is going to do from the new year.

“He done seh, ‘Daddy that’s bad’ ’cause he gonna go out of a job and have to look for something else. He seh nothing ain’t deh round here to do and he gon got to go in the bush and look for wuk but me ain’t like that because the bush dangerous,” Wilkinson added.

Ripple effect

Because of the large amount of workers that will be without a job from 2018, business owners in the community predict a drastic slowdown.

“This whole thing is a ripple effect, you know. People earn money and they come and spend it right here in the community and it keeps flowing like that. But when people stop earning, it means that they stop spending. Even when they get their severance pay, everyone will be pinching it because it’s not going to last forever. When people used to eat three square meals a day, you are going to see them eating less. You are going to see them buying less,” one business owner related.

Wilkinson also echoed similar comments and explained that a massive slowdown has already been noticed. He said that since the rumours of thousands of workers being laid off started spreading through the community like wildfire, people have already started to “pinch their pockets” and have been spending less.

“You know they does get a season where they don’t grind and thing and people was just home waiting and praying for it to start back and function. The market all de nah function and everybody de just crying ’cause noting nah sell but now it closing for good. We can’t depend on nothing anymore and got to focus on where we getting money now for food when the day come,” Wilkinson said.

Every day, the whistle at the estate would sound times. The sound would echo throughout the community, alerting workers that it was time to begin their shift. The streets of the community would subsequently be filled with large numbers of residents and people from nearby communities marching with their water bottles, cutlasses and other equipment to begin their day of work.

However, come the new year, residents will no longer be able to hear the sound they had become accustomed to and many of them are of the opinion that it will mark a dark day in the community, when crime and domestic violence will drastically increase.

“Crime start increase already. By 1am or 2am in the morning, you can’t walk out this place and thing like before. You can’t walk from here to the public road ’cause people don’t deh around anymore. You know that by 10 in the night when the bell ring, them workers does be walking down the street going to the estate but soon the streets gon be dead. People nah gon got money and they gon start doing bad things because money does make the world go round. People need money to survive,” Wilkinson said.

Other residents also voiced their fear that domestic violence is going to increase, since the loss of money floating through households will cause “tension and stress.”

“People nah gon get money now and what they got they gon’ have to pinch. Everybody gonna be on they nerves and stressed because people now got to worry about how long they savings going to last and if they gon get a new job. Arguments gon start easy and soon you might hear about nuff people getting chop and all those things,” one resident said.

Inevitable

While the time of the mass layoffs comes to some of the workers as a shock, some of them said that the estate was being badly managed and its closure was inevitable.

“The only opinion I can give is that nobody gon open a shop if it not profitable and that is what is happening. Because cost factor is over the head and nobody will try to contribute and take out they money from they pocket and push into something they don’t see a return [on],” John McGarrell said.

The man explained that when the APNU+AFC government took office in 2015, the entire management system should have been changed.

Another cane transporter, Partab Daby, who has been working in the sugar industry for more than 25 years, said that the estate is in its current state because enough effort was not put into its maintenance. He explained that most of the cane fields are overrun with vegetation that is sometimes taller than the cane and the drains and water systems have not been cleaned properly.

“Check them dam and trench. You can walk over them. You see them condition? They should’ve maintained the estates properly and is that ripener that destroy the whole estate… You got all them things blocking up and one machine can’t pull one punt. So you have to use more than one and that means you got to spend more money on fuel and on maintenance because they nah take care of the fields them properly,” Daby said.

In addition to Enmore, other surrounding communities, where a large number of workers reside, are expected to also be affected.

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