When the PM addressed the retrenched sugar workers in Region Six, he told them that each worker would be given one acre of land to cultivate cash crops, coconuts, citrus, etc, after receiving half of their severance pay for their service. This is unrealistic. One acre of land with these crops cannot sustain the worker; for him to make an ample living to take care of his family he should be given nothing less than five acres of land.
When you plant vine crops like squash, pumpkin, cucumbers, etc, they will end up over in the neighbour’s one acre of land, and it will end up in conflict. It happened to me while planting my one acre at Bush Lot, Essequibo. We were given one acre of farm land by Dr Reid when he was Minister of Agriculture to subsidize our 10 acres of rice in the ʼ70s.The cost of production will not compensate these workers; they will have to buy planting materials, fertilizers and hire labourers to work on the land. Some of these crops like coconuts and citrus will take 3-5 years before they produce any fruit, and in the meantime the workers will be without a job. This is a ridiculous proposal.
When a rice farmer cultivates one acre of paddy he cannot make ends meet to sustain his family and make a profit; he is always on the losing end and indebted. He has to buy seed paddy, fertilizers, chemicals, pay for ploughing the land, reaping the crop and transporting it to the mill. The sugar workers will end up like the rice farmers, without any profit. These sugar workers have spent all their lives planting and cutting canes; all they have known since they were born was canes and sugar. When they wake up in the morning it is to go to the back dam to cut cane or fertilize the canes.
It would be unfair to give these redundant sugar workers one acre of land to make a living while the rest is sold to private investors. I have nothing against divestment and privatization, but I think that our people should be given the first opportunity to work the land which belonged to our forefathers. Privatization and divestment can bring much needed skills into the industry and create employment. If you give the workers five acres and one acre is infected with a coconut disease, he will still have four acres in which to make a profit.
The redundant worker should be given his full severance pay according to the Termination and Severance Pay Act which was passed in the National Assembly in 1992 and assented to by the late Dr Cheddi Jagan. Mr Seepual Narine, the General Secretary of GAWU knew that when the 60 workers at Caricom Rice Mills were severed they received their payment in full at the last rate of pay. This should happen in this case to the workers.