Ex-sugar Workers Rejoice At Payout, Some Disappointed LK Hewlett Story Updated: September 18th 2015 at 4:30 pm
Most of the former sugar workers who received cheques for back gratuity pay from the government this morning (Sept 18) were overjoyed while some left the ceremony disappointed Individuals flocked the CLICO building Thursday morning; those who had made application for consideration for the $16 million Sugar Workers Restoration Fund disbursement, and members of the general public. The more senior former industry workers sat under tents in the CLICO parking lot while a large crowd gathered directly opposite in the Independence Square. Following addresses by the SWRF Committee Chairman Permanent Secretary in the prime Minister’s Office Osbert Desouza and Committee member Franklin Maitland, the gathering heard from Prime Minister Hon. DR. Harris who said his Unity government had fulfilled its promise to the aggrieved sector within 7 months of being in office. Today marks an important milestone in the history of our country and in the life of this Team Unity administration, on the eve of the 32nd anniversary of our independence and exactly four months after we came here to open the Sugar Workers Restoration Fund (SWRF) Secretariat. We are now here to deliver on a BIG promise to many of the unsung heroes of this country…the women and men like Allison Williams, Agatha Akers, Helena “Bernie” Jarvis, Joseph Hercules, Aubrey Pemberton and Chemical Wilson, who toiled in the sugar industry for decades to make this country the success story of the Caribbean. “I say to you that it is right and proper that these persons, who toiled in some of the harshest working conditions to secure a future for themselves, their children and grandchildren, are now getting their just recognition and reward for supporting their families, putting a roof over their heads, clothing and feeding them, sending their children to school and ensuring their health and safety. It is right and proper that we bring restorative justice to these unsung heroes who broke their backs and braved sweltering heat in the midday sun to ensure this country earned well needed foreign exchange to provide jobs in other industries and such sectors as national security, healthcare, education and other social services in order to secure a dignified existence for our people.” He thanked the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and its President His Excellency Nicolas Maduro and his Ambassador to the Federation His Excellency Romolo Gonzalez and the Embassy staff for the $16mil grant and other support they had given to the new government. A number of elderly persons, one of whom was blind but said she found her way to the ceremony despite her challenge, were singled out to receive their cheques. They all thanked PM Harris profoundly, one man moved to tears. Many said the money was a “God send” and they would put it to good use. Desouza informed that persons who were beneficiaries of ex-sugar workers would be able to collect their cheques next Wednesday. President Maduro is scheduled to arrive in St. Kitts tonight and will also distribute cheques to persons at the same location tomorrow starting at around 10:30am. Scores lined up and presented identification and checked to see if their names were on the payout list before they were allowed into the Secretariat to collect a cheque. Those who were told their names were not on the list, expressed anger and disappointment. “I really thought I woulda get even a lil something. I waited out here in dis heat all morning and they say nuttin dere for me. I happy for who get but disappointed for myself,” one man who declined to give a name said. He claimed he worked in the industry for about 7 years and was present when it closed. He admitted to receiving money in the 2005 severance payment but refused to say how much. There were rumors that some persons were upset at receiving ‘small amounts’ however The Observer was unable to find anyone who had a problem with their sum. Quite a few persons who exited the building with envelopes said they would wait until they got to the National Bank to cash the cheque or were when they were alone, to open their envelopes. While it was originally announced that 1861 persons were due benefits in the 2015 payout, officials today said 2311 person had qualified. It was not made clear if the other 450 were non nationals. A total of 2906 persons applied to the Fund. Years of service and wages earned were the primary determinants in computing the benefits.