Production is at a virtual standstill at the Worthy Park Sugar Estate in St. Catherine after hundreds of workers walked off the job this morning, August 21, to amplify their request for what they consider a reasonable pay increase.
The workers, through three trade unions, initially were negotiating for a 25 percent pay increase in the first year and 20 percent in year two.
However, the management of the factory initially maintained that it does not have the funds to facilitate an increase, said Arlene Thomas, Chief Delegate of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU).
She told The Beacon that the unions opted to reduce their requests to 10 percent increase in the first year and 10 percent in the second year.
The company eventually budged, but is still not offering anything close to what the unions want.
It is offering 3 percent increase in the first year and 2 percent in the second year, Thomas disclosed.
She stated that the unions sought the intervention of the Ministry of Labour, which convened a meeting yesterday between the parties.
Thomas explained: “We went to a meeting yesterday at the Ministry Of Labour and the company did not change its position, although the unions have come down significantly to a 10 percent increase in the first year and 10 percent in the second year. I put that across to the workers this morning; they have decided that they are not going back to work until something tangible is put on the table for them to work off.
“For now, the workers are off and the company is at a standstill. That is based on the decision of the workers; it was no decision from me; I did not instigate a strike,” Thomas further said.
She noted that a field worker at Worthy Park Sugar Estate currently earns $1,480 for an eight-hour work day and a field supervisor earns $1,600 daily.
Thomas argued that the workers last got a pay increase in 2018, although inflation has escalated. She said the price of sugar has increased.
“The workers are saying the company keeps on investing in itself and saying it doesn’t have any money – and they are not investing in the workers and the workers are an integral part of going forward. They boast that they have the best workers…” Thomas continued.
“We have worked through the [COVID-19] pandemic; no one has said to us: ‘Based on your work through the pandemic, we are going to see to it that you are benefiting’. We have not benefited from anything right through.”
Thomas noted that the workers at Worthy Park were not the only ones who walked off the job. Their colleagues did likewise at the company’s other locations at Caymanas and Bog Walk region.
The other two unions representing the workers are the National Workers Union (NWU) and the University and Allied Workers Union (UAWU).
Thomas said the company has promised to further consider the workers’ request.
“They are saying that they have called an emergency meeting with the rest of factories to talk to their principals and talk to their union – the Sugar Producers Federation – to see how they can resolve the issue. The workers have decided that they are not going back to work until something tangible is put on the table from the producers,” she explained.
The Beacon has been trying to get a response from the company.
By Horace Mills, Journalist
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