Striking sugar workers drinking “cool aid”, unwelcome at OP – Jagdeo

Vice-President Bharrat Jagdeo responding to the advocacy of Alliance For Change (AFC) Khemraj Ramjattan, MP, on the issues of striking sugar workers, took exception to comments made by the Member of Parliament (MP) on our affiliate program ‘In The Ring’ with host Sherod Duncan.

Jagdeo said striking sugar workers are drinking “cool air” and would be unwelcome at the Office of the President for an audience with President Irfaan Ali. Close to four hundred sugar workers are on strike as a result of non-payment of severance or a package offer from the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) Government. It has been sixteen days since workers down tools and took to the streets, first protesting at Rose Hall, Canje, Berbice, then to the PPPC party office in New Amsterdam, and on August 30, 2023, the General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) and Office of the President in the Capital City, Georgetown.

Ramjattan, Opposition MP and Shadow Minister of Agriculture who has been following the striking workers and engaging at every stage of their strike said ‘In The Ring’ the union the workers pay dues to, members went to the PPP three times during the day but, “the Union representatives first told the sugar workers that no official was there to see them, then they shut the gates on the Sugar Workers, and its union members .”

Workers traveled from Berbice took their protest first to their GAWU Kingston Head Office. MP Ramjattan explained that when they called out for the President, Vice President, or the Minister of Agriculture Zulfikar Mustapha in front of the Office of the President and next to the Ministry of Agriculture no one came out or was sent to have an audience with them.

The ‘In The Ring’ host had questioned what may have been reasons for the reluctance of the Minister of Agriculture, VP Jagdeo and the President not to have and audience with the sugar workers. Rajmatan stated three reasons, firstly, he believes it is the PPP’s arrogance because they are in power. “I do not really understand, I am trying to work it out because quite a number of those names they gave me, about three hundred and ninety something, they give a number of those names are Black sugar workers. I hope to God that is not a reason that they are refusing to talk to them because the majority of them might very well be Black People.”

He noted that the PPPC government does not find the plight of the sugar workers a matter of importance to require assistance. Ramjattan cited the high cost of living and the fact that during the severance payment of the APNU/AFC Government, the then PPP/C Member of Parliament “Anil Nandlall had gone to the sugar workers and told them that because they had gone to an estate that is ten miles away, that is regarded as a different contract of employment and as a result they should receive severance pay.” The AFC leader contends that the PPPC are in government and have the oil monies the striking sugar workers ought to have some form of compensation.

During their recent protest striking sugar workers explained that they did not receive a severance package from the closure of Rose Hall, Canje, sugar estate because they opted for continued work at Albion and Blairmont Sugar Estates during the payout of severance under the APNU/AFC Government. The AFC Leader said that the PPP/C government is now reopening Rose Hall Sugar Estate and the workers will now have to return to work there without any benefits being paid to them. The sugar workers are claiming the will lose twice as much because when the PPP/C came to office in 2020 they paid out millions of dollars and hampers to the workers who had already received severance, but not to the four hundred currently striking workers.