Wales Estate and factory will officially close on Saturday. Close to 1200 workers will reportedly be placed on the breadline. Private cane farmers on the West Bank of Demerara now face an uncertain future.
Saturday will be one of the saddest days in the country. It is never easy for people who have lived in the shadow of an estate all their lives, to be told that the estate will no longer be there.
People are scared. People are uncertain. The opposition is offering support. The government is keeping its distance because it has nothing to offer those affected.
No alternatives have yet been provided to those affected. The closure of Wales will affect businesses also, since workers will no longer have incomes to spend. It promises to be a bleak New Year on the west side.
It is no use belaboring the point that sugar’s economic contribution is not about profit and losses. It is about foreign exchange earnings also. It is sometimes justifiable to keep an industry going at a loss because of its foreign exchange contribution. Sugar is also about the social costs involved. But these types of arguments have fallen on deaf ears because sugar is deemed to be costly to taxpayers and has to be phased out, beginning with Wales.
The government has indicated plans to convert GuySuCo into a commercial agricultural corporation. But that is cheap talk. The government has no plans, no vision for undertaking such as a task.
Previous estate closures offered alternatives to the workers. When Diamond closed, workers were offered work at Wales, Leonora and as far as Enmore. That made no sense to the workers. They cannot afford to travel all that distance from their homes to get to work. But there was an alternative for Diamond workers. A large number of the workers laid off at Diamond found work in the construction sector at Grove/Diamond.
No similar development is taking place on the west side. The economy of the West Bank is stagnating. The closure of Wales will make the situation worse. All it would have taken is 1.9 billion dollars to save the jobs at Wales.
The west side for centuries has moved to a particular rhythm. It was the rhythm of estate work, from the early morning horns, to the annual spending spree following the payout of the annual production incentive. That rhythm will now be disrupted. The economic pulse of the west side will be thrown into disarray. The west side will now see scrambles for livelihoods.
But the die is cast. Even the AFC cannot save Wales. It cannot save GuySuCo. Sugar has been deemed a bottomless hole. It has to go.
Sugar workers have become the eye pass of the APNU+AFC government. No increase in wages, no annual production incentives. The union begged for the Christmas bonus to be paid to sugar workers.
Wales is not alone. The construction sector has contracted. Barama has shut shop after not hearing from the government about the renewal of their leases. Workers are being put on the breadline. The pressure is on.
Wales marks the beginning of the end of sugar. It marks the beginning of hard times for the workers of Guyana.
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