Basseterre, St. Kitts (SKNIS) — Emotions ran high—tears of joy and tears of sorrow. It was a time of exuberant joy for former sugar workers, who after decades of working on the sugar plantations had finally received their recompense. But, it was also a time of deep sorrow to recount the justice that had been denied them for 10 years since the sugar industry closed in 2005, diversifying into a service- based economy.
In a carnival-like atmosphere, hundreds of former sugar workers arrived at the Clico Building on South Independence Square street to receive their cheques—some could hardly walk; one said she was blind, others had prostheses, some were in their 70’s and 80’s and had spent all their lives working in the sweltering heat. They recounted the stories of a time when sugar was king. Now, it is no longer.
Prime Minister Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris speaking at the Sugar Workers Restoration Fund (SWRF) distribution of cheques said it was “right and proper that these persons, who toiled in some of the harshest working conditions to secure a future for themselves, their children and grandchildren, are now getting their just recognition and reward for supporting their families, putting a roof over their heads, clothing and feeding them, sending their children to school and ensuring their health and safety.”
He said that it was a case of restorative justice for the former sugar workers to get their fair share.
“It is right and proper that we bring restorative justice to these unsung heroes who broke their backs and braved sweltering heat in the midday sun to ensure this country earned well needed foreign exchange to provide jobs in other industries and such sectors as national security, healthcare, education and other social services in order to secure a dignified existence for our people,” he said.
“For those who may argue that this was mere an election gimmick at the time, I ask, what is it now that over two thousand three hundred former sugar workers are finally getting their justice,?” he asked.
Prime Minister Harris said that his government’s policies are caring and they seek to give people a fresh start.
“Our policy seeks to give our people a fair share of our prosperity because they built this country from ground up, cane field to cane field, railway to factory, washer to crusher, boiler house to sugar house,” said the prime minister, adding that “we are steadfast in our caring concern to give our people a fresh start after they have been aggrieved for more than ten years, having been deprived of the opportunity to reasonably, tangibly and meaningfully share in our economic growth.”
The Leader of St. Kitts and Nevis also said that the long-overdue compensation to former sugar workers signaled a fresh start in industrial relations.
“This is what we meant when we said a fresh start in industrial relations. This is what we meant when we said a fresh start in ending the exploitation of the worker. A fresh start for fairness. A fresh start for justice for the laboring masses,” he said.
The first compensation package to former sugar workers, which they received in 2005-2006, covered 968 workers compared to the 2015 payout which covered over 2,300 former sugar workers.
The second tranche of the payout was made possible by EC$16 million dollar grant from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, who not only provides subsidized fuel to St. Kitts and Nevis under the PetroCaribe agreement, but also help with social development.
Prime Minister Harris thanked the Sugar Workers Restoration Fund Committee which comprised of Mr. Osbert DeSuza as the Chairperson, Mr. Reginald George, Mr. Lenworth Harris, Mr. Spencer Amory, Mr. McClure Taylor, Mr. Gary DaSilva, Ms. Brenda Caesar, H.E. Sam Condor, Mr. Franklin Maitland, Mr. Sydney Bridgewater, Mr. Al Edwards, Mr. Leon Charles, Mr. Rawle Mars, Mr. Clecton Phillip, Mr. Calvin Edwards and Ms. Jennifer Archibald.
“This was a labour of love on behalf of the laboring class and I want to thank the committee for its professional work and for yeoman national service,” he said.