Wed | Dec 13, 2017

Trade unionists seek answers about viability of Monymusk

Published:Saturday | September 23, 2017 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Work being done by the National Irrigation Commission Limited on the Monymusk Irrigation System in Clarendon.

Owners Pan Caribbean Sugar Company will take control of the Monymusk Sugar Factory in Clarendon, at least for the 2017-18 sugar crop, agriculture minister Karl Samuda said on Wednesday, but uncertainty about the fate of the facilities thereafter has at least two trade unionists concerned.

"They will repair the factory, they will staff it, and they will process the sugar cane," John Gayle, chief executive officer of the Sugar Industry Authority (SIA) told The Gleaner.

Last year, the SIA was forced to operate the factory on behalf of the State following the announcement by Pan Caribbean that it planned to shutter the facility. The Government then stepped in to avert job losses and consequent socio-economic fallout for the sugar-dependent communities, even as Samuda insisted that it would not be reinvesting in the sugar business.

Despite this, the agriculture minister used the press conference at his New Kingston to announce that Government would reclaim 25,000 acres of leased lands at Bernard Lodge and Monymusk that are not being cultivated.

 

Approved marketing agent

 

Pan Caribbean, which also owns the Frome Sugar Factory in Westmoreland, has been granted "approved marketing agent" status, along with the Golden Grove Sugar factory in St Thomas and Jamaica Cane Products Sales Limited, which will allow it to import refined sugar for the retail trade.

Had Government not brokered this latest deal with Pan Caribbean, Monymusk, in all likelihood, would have been closed, a situation that prompted veteran trade unionist Vincent Morrison, president of the Union of Clerical, Administrative, and Supervisory Employees, to put the following questions to Minister Samuda.

"What is the situation thereafter? Is there any plan?"

In response, the minister pointed out that the 3,000 hectares of cane cultivated was well short of the 7,000 hectares needed to provide the throughput for any semblance of viability. And despite his instance that the Government is not, and will not again be, involved in sugar production, cited a strong working relationship with Pan Caribbean as integral to any turnaround in fortunes. In fact, the explanation raised some questions about the Government's stake in the private sector-owned facility.

"It's a partnership, and we believe that if we perform in the field this year, coupled with their performance in the factory this year, that we will see them wishing to continue into the future. Our interest is in ensuring that our assets are utilised properly, and so we will go in search of investors ... . It's a straight business deal ... my primary mission right now is to make sure we get through this year."

People of Clark's Town suffering, no jobs available

 Hanif Brown of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union spoke to the uncertainty triggered by the one-year leases for farmers contracted to Pan Caribbean.

"What plans are afoot for the expansion of cane cultivation at Monymusk?" he queried, also raising questions about the issue of irrigation at Bernard Lodge. In seeking answers, the trade unionist painted a damning picture of the situation in one sugar-dependent community in Trelawny.

"My last visit to Clark's Town a few weeks ago give a tale of grief and suffering. In other words, the people in those areas don't have nuh jobs," he said. He reminded Samuda that on the issue of survival of the sugar industry, Vision 2030 emphasises diversification into cogeneration and ethanol production as prerequisites for the continued survival of the sugar industry.

In response, the minister alluded to a solar energy project to reduce the high energy cost for irrigation, and on the issue of security of tenure for cane farmers, was less definitive.

"We will be working towards having them achieve leases that are meaningful because it is not our intention to see the factory at Monymusk closed," he declared.