I do strongly believe that the severed sugar workers must be given subsidized water and electricity due to the tremendous hardships they and their families have been facing. At this point in time it is difficult for them to provide even for the basic needs of food for themselves and their families. It will also be a great boost if the government can focus its ‘Bus’ initiative in those areas affected.
It is now an accepted fact that the government did not make any provisions to support the dismissed sugar workers even though it was planned long before the preparation and presentation of the 2018 Budget in Parliament. It is also a fact that even the payment of severance was not catered for in the Budget, even though the law stipulates that the payment must be made as soon as the worker is severed. There was fiscal space in the Budget to accommodate the severance since there was an extra budgetary allocation of $4 billion for the GDF, the People’s Militia and National Service. However, the government now has an opportunity to make amends.
Let me be clear. This hardship of these sugar workers results from no fault of theirs. It is accepted that the profitability of the industry is severely threatened and hence its viability, but it is the responsibility of the government to ensure their survival. The EU has made that clear in their National Adaptation Strategy that the livelihood of the workers must be protected.
We must bear in mind that since government took office in 2015, the sugar workers have not received a dollar in wage and salary increases even though the ministers have been given from 50 to 100% increases despite the fact they have not actually started to work. Many incentives have been taken away from these sugar workers and many have no savings; they live from paycheck to paycheck.
Being trained to become entrepreneurs, their children being trained to work in the oil and gas sector, being given loans from a fund of $100 million (this works out to $20 thousand dollars per worker), being given 1 acre of land each to cultivate, being trained to do other skilled jobs, is selling dreams to them. What we need to understand is that the Wales Estate was closed since December 2016 and the sugar workers and the surrounding areas are still reeling from the fallout.
The press has reported, ‘Closure of Wales Sugar Estate now taking toll on surrounding communities’ and again, as at December 2017, the dire situation had not changed. In fact it had gotten worse. Will Skeldon and Rose Hall be any better? No, they will not be any better off.
Privatization is a long way off. The valuation by Pricewater House will take at least 8 months, according to the government, and the submission of investment proposals from those investors who have shown interest in the purchase of Rose Hall and Skeldon will take another 8 months. This may take us to the end of 2019. Therefore the eventual operation of these estates will take approximately 2 years. What will the redundant sugar workers do to survive in the meantime? Moreover, it is not assured that all of them will be re-employed.
It is submitted that by subsidizing the electricity and water bills of these workers, the economy as a whole will benefit, since the money saved from these bills will increase the spending on consumer goods in the economy and it will have a multiplier effect. More jobs will be saved or created and the economy will be able to withstand the shock of the negative effects of the redundancy to some extent. Some revenue from VAT and other taxation will go to the government.
Furthermore, to give a paltry $10,000 subsidy to all 5,000 workers made redundant in the industry will only amount $600 million per annum. Linden is given a subsidy of over $2 billion per annum which they do deserve. So to give all the redundant workers a subsidy for water and electricity will not bankrupt the Treasury. Both sugar workers and bauxite workers have made significant contributions to the economy in this country’s hour of need. In the past, the sugar workers have directly given more than $100 billion as sugar levy.
In addition, the provision of free transportation to the children of sugar workers in the affected areas such as Wales, Rose Hall and Skeldon will go a far way to alleviating the sufferings of these workers and their families.
The plight of the dismissed sugar workers is a test of our morals, whether we care for our fellowmen or not. This is not about politics or race (in fact all races are affected by this redundancy and people from all political parties are affected), but it is about assisting our brothers and sisters and their children and their dependents in their hour of need.
I do sincerely ask the government to carefully consider this request.