Almost 10 months after the shutdown of the Wales Sugar Estate, many of the workers that were once gainfully employed as cane harvesters, are now voicing their sorrows, following the unavailability of jobs and a consequent stream of income, leaving them and their families in a perilous state.
Exacerbating the situation further, is that most of the harvesters who were laid off are still without their termination benefits, a much needed financial net that helps to cushion the former workers as they try to transition into to new areas of employment.
As the delay in the start of court hearings regarding the Wales severance matter continues, workers, their family members and the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) are making fresh calls for the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) to pay out the benefits as residents in the area continue to face financial challenges.
Since the closure of the Wales Estate in December of 2016, some 1700 workers have been directly affected, with thousands more in surrounding communities being indirectly affected.
Speaking at GAWU’s Kingston headquarters earlier this morning, former sugar workers and housewives complained of not having enough finances to meet their basic needs or to cover the educational needs of their children.
One aggrieved housewife Samila Bacchus shared similar sentiments, saying that her husband, a former cane harvester, is only finding work sometimes for 1 or 2 days.
Father of 6, Romeo Charles, worked with the estate for 20 years before being laid off. He said many residents are going hungry but are afraid to admit their plight.
Gordon Thomas, a tug captain was one of the few who secured his severance package but he felt it necessary to support his fellow workers, noting that Wales communities are a far cry from what they used to be.
“Many of us have been unable to find jobs. And for those of us who received severance pay, those…sums are quickly drying up as we face rising living costs to meet life’s basic necessities. Even the handful of workers who had purchased vehicles for hire, they now are forced to sell them having found a saturated market with lesser and lesser passengers. Certainly, the grave situation will grow graver in the weeks and months ahead and the people will find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place” Thomas said.
Moreover, he noted that for the cane farmers, the situation is equally as terrible. “Many farmers who had invested large sums in the farms have been forced to abandon their plots. The road to take the farmers canes from as far as Free and Easy, several miles south of the Wales factory, to Uitvlugt Estate is yet to begin.
“It seems that the promised all-weather road is a pie in the sky and many farmers remain clueless as to their next move. Even the gantry to facilitate the discharge of farmers cane at Uitvlugt remains incomplete. Some of those components which were removed from Wales some months ago remain neatly packed on the ground near to the Uitvlugt factory. We wonder whether GuySuCo was really serious about what it was saying or was it a case of a promise being a comfort to a fool.”
The situation for the people and the villages linked to Wales Estate remains bleak and uncertain.
According to Thomas “it is difficult for us to imagine the hardships that would befall the people in the weeks and months that lie ahead. Many of us wonder every day if this is the ‘Good Life’ we were promised. In this sad time, we call on the Government, as the protector of the people, to provide appropriate financial support to allow us to face up to our challenges and to overcome the difficulties brought about by the sad and wrong decision to close Wales Estate.”