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Additional support for sugar workers

Published:Thursday | March 11, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Government yesterday unveiled its economic support programme, which is being put in place to ease the hardships of the more than 3,600 workers made redundant after the divestment of two sugar factories.

Under the programme, each person will get financial assistance - $170,000 for women, $150,000 for men - to pursue business oppor-tunities, or for personal matters, such as clearing up back payments on mortgages.

In addition, head of the sugar transformation unit in the Ministry of Agriculture, George Callaghan, said those who opted to go into business would get help preparing business plans and with training.

Speaking at the official launch, Agriculture Minister Dr Christopher Tufton announced that the programme would be financed by a five-year European Union grant of $2.1 billion.

However, Callaghan made it clear that the money would not fall into the hands of these individuals. Instead, he said, it would be paid directly to suppliers and other agencies after the required checks and approvals.

Just in time

For Keisha-Gaye Mason-Samuels, the programme was just in time to save her home, which had been purchased through a mortgage from the National Housing Trust (NHT).

Mason-Samuels told The Gleaner that she had already used her entire allotment to pay down her mortgage.

For nearly 14 months, the former scales worker said she was unable to pay her mortgage because she and her husband had been made redundant after the divestment.

"It was an experience ... it was very challenging. The hardest part was the bills. Months were passing by and no money coming. They (NHT) were calling us a lot and threatening to take away the house if we didn't make a payment, but I just trusted God," she said.

Another displaced worker, Sylvia Henry, described the programme as a step in the right direction.

In the past, she said, sugar workers were left with nothing after being made redundant, "but this will help us mek something out a weself and keep we on we foot".