Appleton sugar workers face gloomy futureTuesday, July 21, 2020
BY BALFORD HENRY
THERE are strong indications that local rum giant J Wray & Nephew Limited will be closing down its Appleton Estate sugar operations in St Elizabeth.
This became evident yesterday when representatives of J Wray & Nephew met with the trade unions representing workers employed to the sugar estate and factory in the intemperate Holland area — the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), the National Workers' Union and the University and Allied Workers Union.
The main bone of contention has been the likelihood of 300-350 estate and factory unionised workers losing their jobs by the end of the month.
There is also the question of the future of approximately 1,000 acres of land, which has already been heavily populated by squatters, as well as the urgent need for a turnaround in revenues for the Milan-based owners of J Wray & Nephew, the Campari Group.
There is enthusiasm shared by both the owners and the unions that rum sales will return to normal once the novel coronavirus stops spreading. But, there are greater fears, chiefly among the trade union leaders and the workers, that closure of the sugar entity is inevitable and could lead to a massive land grab by the landless, and increased desperation for hundreds of families directly or indirectly benefiting from the operations.
In fact, that likelihood seems to be linked with the urgency shown in getting an organised take-over of the lands owned by the Sugar Company of Jamaica Holdings in the Holland area, which led to last week's reassignment of minister with responsibility for agriculture JC Hutchinson for his anxiety about the leasing of the unused lands in the area.
BITU Island Supervisor Hanif Brown told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that the main challenge is not only the allocation of land, but the question of what forms of employment would be available to families in the area if the sugar factory closes.
“We know that rum production will increase as soon as the pandemic lessens. Both Appleton and New Yarmouth will have enough canes for the increased production over the next decade, because there has been significant investment, and they might even expand further. But, the trade unions are concerned about the sugar workers,” Brown said.
“However, we will have to wait until July 29 to hear what is going to happen, because that is when the management has promised to give us the figures, including the amount of people to be affected, their severance pay, and any other benefits that will be available to them,” he added.
He said that he is hoping the Government will intervene and create an economic development plan for the area, including the now increasingly famous Appleton Estate Tour for tourists, as well as an economic hub and “more fulsome engagement and empowerment of the small farmers in the area”.
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