Government on Saturday, commenced the distribution of its $250,000 ‘one-off’ cash grant to sugar workers who were severed by the former APNU/AFC Government.
Vice President, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo announced in October, that before the end of 2021, severed sugar workers would benefit from the government payout totaling approximately $1.8 billion.
Agriculture Minister, Hon. Zulfikar Mustapha and Senior Minister within the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh, spearheaded the distribution exercise at the Enmore Administrative Office and the Wales Community Center Ground.
Giving remarks at the distribution exercise at the Enmore Estate, Minister Mustapha said the exercise represents another fulfilled commitment by the government to improve the lives of people.
“When we were in Opposition, we said when we returned to government, we would ensure that the sugar workers who were severed would receive some form of assistance although they already received their severance pay. We are here today, and as a party when we make promises we always deliver on those promises. Everyone here, who was severed by the previous administration, I know that your lives were changed tremendously. You had a job and then suddenly we had the closure of four estates. With the stroke of a pen, the former government put 7500 sugar workers on the breadline. The repercussions were severe. The workers’ lives were devastated and the many village economies were destroyed. Access to utilities became a luxury for many people. Today, as I am speaking here, we are standing to the commitment made to the people,” Minister Mustapha.
Minister Mustapha also said that in addition to the $250,000 grant, the government is working to reopen several of the closed estates in a phased approach. He further stated that, to date, approximately 1200 workers who were severed have been reemployed with the government investing close to $12 billion to rehabilitate the industry.
Meanwhile, Senior Minister in the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh, said the decision to close the estates was one of the most callous decisions made by any government in Guyana’s history.
“The decision to close the industry, the decision to padlock the gates of sugar factories throughout the length and breadth of Guyana; that decision by the APNU/AFC government shortly after they came into office was one of the most callous, cruel, and unconscionable decisions made by any government in the history of this country. This was not just about making a profit. When they flipped the switch and padlocked the gates and said these factories were not operating anymore, they were not just closing a factory, they were putting a noose around the neck of entire communities. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out what would happen to a family if you put the primary breadwinner out of work and there were 7000 families like that across the country,” Dr. Singh said.
Dr. Singh also said that in addition to its efforts to resuscitate the industry, the government is also working to create opportunities for citizens in other sectors. He disclosed that come 2022, the government, in collaboration with the private sector, will be hosting a series of job fairs so that persons can be made aware of the job opportunities available.
More than 2,500 sugar workers turned up to the venues to receive their much-anticipated relief package. Sighting the challenges faced since the closure of the estates, sugar workers thanked the government for the relief.
Hilla Rai, one of the workers who benefited from the grant at Enmore said “I’ve been working at the Enmore Estate since the 16th July 1981. I got severance in 2017 or 2018. From that time, I’ve been all over looking for work. When the government took office, I was reemployed at GuySuCo and I’m so thankful to the government for this grant,” the sugar worker noted.
She said she plans to use the grant as a start-up to fund a business to help support her family.
Severed workers from Enmore Estate benefited from a payout of approximately $398 million while severed workers from Wales Estate received approximately $232 million.
The ministers will be in Region Six on Sunday to continue the distribution exercise.