After 15 years ex-Caroni workers yet to receive severance packages

After 15 years ex-Caroni workers yet to receive severance packages

Photo : Nirvan Maharaj

Fifteen years after the closure of Caroni 1975 Limited, more than 4,000 ex-Caroni workers are yet to receive their severance packages. As such, Nirvan Maharaj, President General of the  All Trinidad General Workers’ Trade Union (ATGWTU), has planned a symbolic march from Price Plaza Roundabout to the Office of the Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries to deliver a petition. The march is scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m. on Friday July 20, 2018.

It is regrettable that the severance packages of agricultural/residential lands and leases from the government due to ex-Caroni workers despite a consent order of the Industrial Court and the subsequent High Court Judgement of 2007 have not been delivered.

Clarence Rambharrat was the CEO of Caroni 1975 Ltd that executed the draconian plan to retrench 9,000 workers. He took directives from the then Patrick Manning–led Cabinet and the then Minister of Agriculture, John Raheal. Today Clarence Rambharrat has an opportunity to redeem himself but he is failing to do so. He appears to be prepared to take to the grave the grievous wrong that he committed to so many workers, their families and communities.

The ruling of Justice Lennox Deyalsingh in 2007 to give the ex- Caroni workers their severance packages was appealed by the vindictive Patrick Manning administration. When the PP Government came to power in 2010 they proceeded to withdraw the appeal. However, the PP Government was slow in the distribution of the lands to the ex- Caroni workers. Most interestedly was the slow pace at which lands were processed. Worst was the delay in the distribution of processed land. It was like the sugar–workers were still the sole platform for UNC politicians to ramajhay and for the PNM to abuse.

The current President General of ATGWTU was disappointed in the slow pace at which the PP Government dealt with the processing and distribution of the lands. However, when Rambharat assumed the portfolio of Minister of Agriculture in 2015 he promised to settle all outstanding lands with ex-Caroni workers within one year. After three years have almost gone, Rambharrat has proven to be a colossal failure and the worst Minister of Agriculture in the history of the country.

Photo : Clarence Rambharat Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries

Ex-Caroni workers were the lowest paid workers in the state sector. Their payment of wages was on completion of  specific tasks. It was unlike other state enterprises where the workers can stroll about the work sites, knowing that the treasury was there to keep the company afloat.

Caroni 1975 Limited was an earner of foreign exchange. More than that was the fact that it employed more than 9,000 workers who had families to support. Caroni Ltd also bore a huge social cost in communities across the sugar belt. It helped in the maintenance of roads, recreation grounds, cemeteries, and so many outreach programs. There were hundreds of indirect beneficiaries-taxi-drivers, supermarkets, furniture and appliance stores, etc. it was estimated that approximately 100,000 people were affected directly and indirectly when the closure of Caroni was sealed.

Many state companies were not shut down for losing money. Petrotrin, which is supposed to be the major generator of revenue to the national treasury, currently has a debt of 12 billion dollars and a wage bill which is 50% of the operating cost. The one lesson that Petrotrin can teach young managers is how not to run a business.

The PNM has a way of taking care of its own. When TTT was closed not only was severance packages provided to the staff but also a new media house in CNMG was born. When BWIA was closed, its debt was honoured by the national treasury and the ex-workers were compensated handsomely. Like TTT a new company in Caribbean Airlines was born to provide jobs for the boys and girls and free flights.

Immediately following the closure of Caroni 1975 Ltd Patrick Manning established CEPEP with the objective to provide black entrepreneurs. More than $500m were budgeted annually for CEPEP. CEPEP has failed to generate foreign exchange and has become an instrument to keep the black underclass dependent on the political directorate. It is truly a tool that the ruling party can mobilize to demonstrate a show of strength at political rallies.

The discrimination against ex-Caroni workers is racist.  It reeks of apartheid. It is now becoming crystal clear that Rowley is taking his supporters back to the 1950s. He is failing to understand that that would not work and that the vast majority of the people are going to reject such moves. Nevertheless, given his unpopularity Rowley is playing the race card to garner support from the base of the PNM party. It is a strategy that all unpopular leaders did throughout history including Adolf Hitler of Germany who targeted Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals for execution.

Contractors who have done work for the EMBD are yet to be paid. With contractors engaged in on-going litigation with the EMBD to secure payment for work done, work has halted on the development of plots for distribution to ex-Caroni workers.  

I want to congratulate Nirvan Maharaj for taking to the streets to highlight the plight of the ex-Caroni workers. A voice for the downtrodden is a voice from the heavens that should not be ignored.