“We feel neglected” – retrenched sugar workers

The closed Wales Sugar Estate now sits silently

…disheartened after “outsiders” granted 100 acres of land

…and none to them as promised

Closing the estates was one of the most tragic news for workers across the sugar belt who were planning to continue the tradition of serving the decades-old industry and then retiring.

Back in 2017 when their income was snatched, workers of the Wales Sugar Estate were promised by the APNU/AFC coalition government that lands from the estate will be given to them to engage in farming and other agricultural activities to earn a living.

The closed Wales Sugar Estate now sits silently

Two years later, these lands were never distributed to the sugar workers and hundreds of acres have now been leased to private persons and recently, 700 acres for coconut cultivation and processing.

The Wales Estate on the West Bank of Demerara was one of four – namely Enmore in Demerara, and Rose Hall and Skeldon in Berbice— which were closed under the current administration, leaving thousands jobless.

When Inews visited the community on Saturday, the retrenched sugar workers said that they are still struggling to find jobs, awaiting the promise that they would be granted the plantation lands as was assured. Some said that they were disappointed and dismissed the possibility that they would ever get land after hearing that a large portion was already given away.

Alec Paul Singh had given 39 years of his life to the industry. He explained to Guyana Times that the only option was to join the Uitvlugt Estate, located miles away on the West Coast of Demerara and even though he wanted to, his job profile was redundant.

Retrenched worker Alec Singh hoped of acquiring lands for planting

For this, he, along with many others, applied for a piece of property to forge a new living. Despite making numerous enquiries, the information could not be provided on other aspects of this arrangement but only the application was collected.

According to the former estate worker, he was planning on planting crops, since it was a stone’s throw away from his Vriesland house – a village beyond Patentia which overlooks acres of land once planted with sugarcane by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo). Disheartened, he shared the opinion that sugar workers are being neglected while the lands are distributed to “outsiders”.

“This land, me could go over and plant garden and come across. They then telling we that we got to go to another place, 10 miles from here. We don’t have transportation. The land give away to outsiders instead of giving it to sugar workers. Sugar workers getting nothing under this Government because they not helping anybody,” Singh vocalised.

He added, “We feel neglected because we supposed to get the first opportunity for the land because all my grandparents and father turn the soil for this estate and we have no benefit to get. Things very rough here”.

Meanwhile, another former worker identified as “Chotoo” (only name), indicated that many other persons were given portions of the estate lands for various reasons while villagers in the community should have been given first preference.

“Chotoo” (only name) is another worker who is still waiting on land that was promised to him by the Government

His son, who was also employed at the Wales Estate, recently managed to find a job in security after waiting many months. Apart from their severance package, the elderly man shared that they were not assisted in any other manner. Those who were rendered jobless continued to search for employment in the community and other parts of the country.

With Wales Estate being closed, there had been much interest in the land left behind, particularly for farmers. In fact, earlier this year, land from the Wales Sugar Estate was snapped up by local and overseas-based farmers and over a thousand acres of that land was put under rice cultivation.

In 2017, almost a year after the estate was closed down, the Government had claimed that decision to offer the land to the fired workers was to have them employed in feasible alternative ventures.

Then in November 2018, almost two years after the closure, $2.4 billion was finally approved in the National Assembly for severance to dismissed sugar workers.

Extra Virgin Coconut Products (EVCP) and Amazonia Expert Services Incorporated (AESI) are the two companies who received 680 acres of land from the Estate’s assets. However, a statement emanating from the companies admitted that EVCP negotiated the lease long before the AESI was created.