Sugar workers to become owners

When the full transition of the sugar industry is completed, for the first time workers in the sugar sector will become owners, says Indar Weir, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Nutritional Security.

On Tuesday in the Well of the House of Assembly, the minister, in response to questions during the Appropriation Bill, 2024, said workers were being enfranchised in Government’s divestment of the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC).

“I didn’t feel at the time that I wanted to just transition an industry that brings new ownership but not real ownership,” he stated, adding that real ownership was when the workers have “a stake in where they are working”.

He explained that when “sugar was king” many of the workers were slaves and coming off that history the present-day labourers were also of a certain ethnicity, working for minimum wage and using the bushes for bathrooms.

“I couldn’t have allowed the moment to pass where I had an opportunity to enfranchise workers and didn’t do it. That is the reason why this project turns out to be better than the other two projects that came before this Chamber and before the Barbadian taxpayers,” Weir stated.

He was speaking during the annual Estimates 2024-2025 – in which his ministry was allocated $85 429 960.

In the divestment of the BAMC, the Agricultural Business Company will manage the approximately 5 000 acres of land belonging to the BAMC and the Barbados Energy and Sugar Company will operate an energy plant.

As part of the process, workers were allocated a 20 per cent shareholding in the two companies taking over.

Weir said the industry was heavily losing money as sugar was being produced at Portvale Factory at one price and being sold at a price below that which meant the Government had to keep subsidising sugar.

He said sugar and molasses were being sold in bulk in the first instance to Booker Tate, which he stopped and gave instructions to find a different buyer and that broke the reliance on a particular company.

“When the full transition is completed . . .  for the first time in our existence workers in the sugar industry are becoming owners. Workers becoming owners has to be the real deal,” he stated.

It took a Government and people who cared about people to be able to agree that the workers of the sugar industry should become owners over and above the traditional ownership, the minister said.

“That, to my mind, represents the greatest piece of enfranchisement that took place in this hemisphere,” Weir stated.

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