What about us? - Discontent brews as some St Thomas cane interests excluded from compensation
At least two cane farmers in St Thomas have raised concerns about their exclusion from the list of beneficiaries of the $200 million allocated by the Government to assist those who have been negatively affected by the closure of the Golden Grove Sugar Factory.
A payment exercise last Friday saw roughly 150 former factory workers, sugar farmers, cane cutters being compensated for at least two consecutive seasons for the now-shuttered factory. According to the Government, the cash payment is to be followed by the provision of seeds, fertilisers, parcels of land, and other forms of input.
However, a number of farmers and workers are not pleased that they have not benefited from the compensation scheme and have written to the agriculture ministry for an explanation. Among them are the Fred M. Jones Estate, which is owned by Nicholas Jones, and the Pearnel Charles Sr-headed St Thomas Sugar Farms.
Charles, whose workers were ignored last Friday, labelled as biased the decision to pay some farmers and exclude others.
He said that farmers who have registered their businesses using a company name were told that they were not entitled to any of the funding, and their workers were also excluded from the payouts.
“It is unfair that you’re telling the workers that because they work for me and my business is not in my name but is registered under a company title makes them unsuitable for payments,” Charles told The Gleaner. “So somebody who works for John Brown can get, but those who work for St Thomas Farms don’t qualify because the business has company name.”
He added: “My name is Pearnel Charles and my company’s name is St Thomas Farms, but St Thomas Farms is me and I am St Thomas Farms, so I don’t understand how I didn’t get any money to pay my workers. What is the difference between workers who work for me and the ones who work for John Brown next to me? It is unfair.”
Charles, a veteran politician, trade unionist and current member of parliament for Clarendon North Central, said he has requested a meeting with the necessary authorities to work out a solution as the workers are uneasy.
“One hundred acres of my cane was burnt down last night. The workers didn’t get any money and that is creating riots, so we are trying to settle this,” Charles said on Monday. Some 300 acres of sugar cane on at least two farms in St Thomas were destroyed by fire on Monday, with a tag of approximately $36 million.
Nicholas Jones, cane farmer and CEO of the Fred M. Jones Estate, who was also excluded from the list of beneficiaries, believes the fires were set by disgruntled sugar workers.
“Quite a few workers did not get any of these grand payments at all, so there is still a bit of disgruntlement in the area, and I suspect it may be related to cane fires that we have had today and this is just a continuation of what took place two weeks ago,” he told The Gleaner on Monday.
Jones was referring to some 1,300 acres of sugar cane that were destroyed by fire a few weeks ago with losses estimated in excess of $150 million.
“I don’t know who is doing what about the situation, but I think whatever was done was handled improperly and it needs to be addressed,” he said of the compensation scheme.
“When the announcement about the $200-million allocation was made in January, I wrote to the SIA (Sugar Industry Authority) to find out what I would need to ensure my workers qualified and they responded ‘Noted’. I have not heard from them since,” he said.