Private sector hosts Christmas party for Skeldon sugar workers, families

There was a glum look on the faces of workers.

The Private Sector Com-mission on Friday hosted what can be dubbed the largest Christmas party for the year in Region Six for the children and families of sugar workers who will be  affected at the end of the month once the Skeldon Estate is officially closed.

Over 350 children were gifted toys, ice cream and other goodies. While over 900 adults received food hampers.

Chairman of the Private Sector Commission, Eddie Boyer during his short message to the gathering highlighted their concern at the closure of the sugar estates. He stressed, that the commission is not against privatizing the sugar estates, however, the mere fact that the estates will no longer provide employment to the thousands of workers at the end of the month is the main concern of the commission.

Toys being handed out

Boyer stressed that the commission will continue to advocate for the affected sugar workers, noting that the Christmas party is just the beginning, as they will also continue to assist however much possible.

He implored the sugar workers and their spouses to be patient, communicate and not add to the frustration that unemployment will cause on their loved ones. “The wives need to understand you cannot punish the husband for not being employed”, he said. “Give him a break until he can find a skill to go out there and earn something”, he noted. He then added, “Don’t get into a situation where you and your husband fighting and quarreling where he’s not working, your not working”.

Families of sugar workers

He also said, the families of sugar workers now need to minimize spending in order to be able to sustain themselves in the long run.

According to Boyer, the commission is hopeful as so many others, that the Skeldon Estate is privatized and reemployment is offered to the workers. However, he said, this is never done at a fast rate, as such it is necessary for the workers to seek other employment for the time being in order to provide for their families.

Boyer said that the closure of the estates is a result of “political mismanagement”. He also told those gathered, that he is somewhat happy and hopeful that severance packages will be offered to the workers in January 2018,  according to Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder.

However, Boyer stressed, that the commission will “never ever let up”. “We will fight and fight and fight until we can do something”.

Hemchand Jaichand, President of the Upper Corentyne Chamber of Commerce and Mayor of Corriverton, explained to those gathered that the Christmas party was hosted in an effort to “cheer up” the sugar workers and their families. He once again stated that he believes that the Skeldon Estate can sustain itself. “You have (power) co generation, local management, you won’t need a board in Georgetown, give the authority so we can find the market, government can still play a part”, he noted.

He added that as the Mayor of the Corriverton he is worried. “2200 persons will be out of a job, the fishing industry they have to take their catch to Suriname… it is going to create cross border crime”.

President of the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association Ltd, Shyam Nokta, expressed his concerns about the move towards closure of the estates. He said, “We don’t believe this is the direction we should be going, however in the new year we will be working closely to follow up on other activities”.

He said to the distressed sugar workers “… We share in your concerns, we share in the concerns you will have going into the new year but today we want to come and spend some time with you to at least try and bring a little happiness during this time of Christmas”.

The children were all very happy to receive a toy on Friday. Most of them opted to open their gift bags and play with their toys on the spot.

However, the faces of the adults present could tell a tale of a sad and depressing reality, a tale of an uncertain future, a tale of not being able to provide food, education and basic necessities for their families in the new year.

Forcing a smile on their faces the sugar workers gathered at Friday’s party told Stabroek News, that while now is a depressing time for the area, they are grateful for the toys and hampers. “I’m glad for the toys for over children, it is very good”, said Bhisham Premlall, 48. The father of two stressed, that going into the new year without a job is “rough” for himself and family. He noted, that presently he is on the hunt for a job in order to take care of his wife and children.

Chandrawattie Kunauth, 58, said, “Abie na know how abie go live, me get five children and me a take care of one grandchild, he (husband) does work to take care everybody”. The woman who almost broke into tears said that the fact that her husband will be unemployed in 2018 ultimately means “starvation” for her family. She also noted, that her husband is presently on the hunt for another job.