With the 2018 sugar season yet to get under way, workers are threatening “serious disruptions” unless the Barbados Agricultural Management Company Ltd (BAMC) addresses some major concerns.
Key among these is the workers’ job security, which the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) said has been left hanging over the uncertainty surrounding this year’s sugar harvest.
“One of the major challenges that we are facing is the blatant disregard for workers and the treatment they are receiving. Every year for the last several years workers have been sitting and waiting to find out if there is going to be a crop . . . . This is the 19th of March and so far we have been given three different dates for the start of the crop. The wider issues surround the ever-present uncertainty surrounding the sugar industry in Barbados,” BWU Acting Deputy General Secretary Dwaine Paul told the media this morning following a packed meeting at the union’s Solidarity House headquarters with employees of state and privately run sectors of the sugar industry.
Paul would not reveal what sort of action the workers would take, but warned the BAMC the union expected concrete solutions when the two sides meet next week.
The trade union leader said workers felt as though they and their families were being taken for granted, and they were fed up of being in limbo about the commencement of the harvest and huge sums of money owned to them.
He also charged that the union had received several complaints about workers’ rights violations, including sexual harassment.
“We have also been inundated with complaints about poor facilities, poor treatment from management, including issues covered under the new sexual harassment legislation. The workers have had enough. We are saying that even when the crop does start we cannot guarantee that the crop will run smoothly should these issues continue during this crop. We will not be standing for it in 2018. The sugar workers had had all they can take as it relates to disrespect, both by the management and I would even say, the Government of Barbados,” Paul said.
This development comes more than a month after BAMC General Manager Leslie Parris had said he was optimistic the 2018 harvest would record a ten to 15 per cent increase in canes and sugar because farmers were engaging in good crop husbandry.
More than 131,000 tonnes of cane were delivered to Portvale Sugar Factory last year, which produced 10,134 tonnes of sugar, 2,000 tonne higher than in 2016.
“In anticipation of this year’s crop, they [farmers] started in 2016 based on the incentive scheme available to them. They planted more acreage in cane and are therefore expected to increase their production between ten and 15 per cent. That also holds true for the BAMC,” Parris had said.
The general manager had said at the time that, weather permitting, the 2018 sugar cane harvest should start around the first week of March with canes from 31 private planters and ten BAMC farms in control of 8,100 acres in the east and north of the island.
However, Paul told the media today there had been no official word since, and workers had simply been relying on rumours.
“We are now hearing by rumour, not by official word from management, that the harvest would begin on the 26th of March,” Paul said, adding that if true, a number of logistical problems would arise as a result of the long Easter weekend.
“The factory does not open on Easter weekend so if you start the crop on the 26th of March, you are really starting on the eve of Easter. This would mean that if you cut on the 26th you are liable to have canes sitting in the field over the Easter weekend that will not be processed for those four days,” the BWU spokesman pointed out.
Government has been under pressure from sugar cane farmers over the non-payment of subsidies owned to the farmers.
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler said last June that the Stuart administration was already saddled with debt payments for the BAMC to the tune of approximately $50 million a year, which he said had been “incurred by successive Governments over the last 15 or 20 years”.
“It costs Government an additional $20 to $25 million on top of the debt payments, which is about $50 million, to finance BAMC’s operations” Sinckler said at the time.