Berbice tractor operators refute reports of labour shortages, say private sector needs to offer benefits

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By: Andrew Carmichael

On the heels of some Berbice businessmen complaining of not finding locals willing to work even though the remuneration package is attractive, several labourers have come forward to refute these allegations, contending that the private sector needs to offer employees more than just a salary.

During a meeting with Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh earlier this month, representatives of the Central Corentyne Chamber of Commerce (CCCC) raised the issue of not finding local labourers and having to resort to hiring expats.

A large percentage of that Chamber’s membership is farmers. However, retail, agro-processing, manufacturing and construction members are engaged in and employ a large percentage of the workforce between Number 43 Village and Number One.

Despite the wide range, Chamber members are complaining of a lack of both skilled and unskilled labour. During the meeting, President of the Guyana Rice Producers Association, Leaka Rambrich, who is also a rice farmer, said tractor operators are being paid $6,000 a day while combine operators get $10,000.

This publication spoke with several tractor who reported that they receive between $4,500 and $5,000 a day while combine operators say they get some $8,000 a day. Due to fear of victimisation, most of the persons who spoke with this media house preferred to remain anonymous.

Some of the more qualified operators explained to INews that they prefer to work in the fishing sector, since the rice industry is seasonal. Others say they are leaving the private sector and seeking government jobs, because of the lack of security and other benefits offered in the private sector.

They point out that as operators, they have to pay their own National Insurance Scheme (NIS) contributions, and if they do not, then they have no financial support if injured in the backdam.

Among the operators this publication spoke with was Ravin Douglas who works with Rambrich.

He explained that after working in his father’s rice field as a heavy-duty machine operator, he left to work with the Skeldon Sugar Estate but after it was closed in 2017, he found himself jobless and experienced much challenges in finding a new and steady source of income. He worked periodically during harvesting time and the land preparation in the rice industry. Over the past three weeks, he has been working for Rambrich.

“The rice farmer used to pay $4,000 and now they paying $5,000. Some pay combine operators $7,000 and some pay $8,000,” he said, admitting that the wages have increased, but not as high as Rambrich disclosed.

Though there is an increase, Douglas alleged that NIS contributions are not being made by his employer. He also contended that there are no other benefits such as health or life insurance.

Efforts to contact Rambrich for a comment on these claims proved futile.