“The UNC and the PNM breached a mandatory court order…”-said Nirvan Maharaj
Photo : An ex-Caroni worker carries a placard
“The UNC and the PNM breached a mandatory court order and have denied them legitimate right and their constitutional right to enjoyment of property,” This was the final words of Nirvan Maharaj, President of the All Trinidad General Workers Trade Union, before the start of the march from Price Plaza, Endeavour, Chaguanas to the Ministry of Agriculture to deliver a letter to Minister Clarence Rambharrat for outstanding severance benefits owed to ex- Caroni workers since 2002 when the company was folded up. The march was held on Friday July 20, 2018 and began at 10 a.m.
Premlal Rick, aka Charlie, an ex-Caroni worker of Felicity participated in the march. “The previous government that I vote and put in power did not give me and here is this guy, sick and still fighting. I was promised two parcel of land. I get one parcel and I need to get the other parcel. I have children. I worked for the company for 26 years—hustled here and there after I was sent home. It was very hard, anything I get I do. I am now 64….life was hard after Caroni. My only income is NIS. It is tough.”
Photo : Nirvan Maharaj leads march of ex-Caroni workers to Ministry of Agriculture to serve petition
Rick went on to state: “My MP is Mr Ganga. Knowing he, seeing he is a question to ask… cannot say when last I see him except when they want something done. There is no sight of your MP. What he has been doing for Felicity is zero. He don’t look for his people, he don’t care for his people. Our area is in a terrible state. We have not seen him in the area since the past election.”
Keith McDonald of Orange Valley worked 32 years with the company at the Engineering Department, Brechin Castle. “I received 2 acres and a paper but no deed. The plot I eh see it as yet… I am now 63 years. After Caroni I did a little welding…anchors in boats but that did not pay out….now I plant garden for home use.”
David Sookraj, aka Roger, is also from Orange Valley. Roger said: “I work for 15 years as a labourer with Caroni and was promise 2 acres and a house lot. I receive the house lot at Roopsingh Road. I still waiting for the 2 acres. When I check the person at the office they keep on saying that everything is in the computer and they also waiting for what was promised to them.”
I failed to get a comment from several women. Though well dressed with brightly coloured lipstick and awash with make-up they were too shy to speak but kept on giggling. Finally I met Patricia Rampersad from St Madeleine who was willing to share her sentiments.
Patricia said: “I worked for 26 years in the company, first in the refinery and then with the IRO... I was promised the 2 acre-parcel and house plot. So far I got the house plot . Someone told me that a person can show me the location of my plot but it was going to cost $ 2,500 ...I went to Moonilal and he told me not to pay.”
“So what is Moonilal doing for you?” I asked.
Patricia responded: ’’ Nothing…just talk, talk and talk…you have to blame that government...oh ghosh ...15 years gone ….I don’t know ...it terrible.”
Photo : Nirvan Maharaj and Chandra Mahabir
Vishnu Rampersad lives at Endeavour. He is married with two grown children. He worked at the Edinburgh section and later at BC driving tasker. Altogether Vishnu worked seven years with the company.
Vishnu said: “I got my 2 acres at Waterloo but the housing lot is outstanding… I still living by my in laws ...I need to build my house...I am 52 years.” He asked:” You think I going to get a mortgage when I am 60?
NIrvan made an appeal to Members of Parliament and “especially those who sit along the sugar belt to raise this issue in Parliament as an issue of national importance because if they can treat one group of people like this, breaching your constitutional rights even after a court would have awarded you your just due, then they can do it to any group of citizens in this country.”
Nirvan Maharaj who had open heart surgery was indisposed during the last few months. During that period no one saw it fit to raise the plight of the ex-Caroni workers. Now recuperating from his open-heart surgery, Nirvan pledged to fight to the bitter end. “I am not going to abandon you at this critical hour. Together we shall win this battle,” he thundered and the crowd applauded and urged him on.
“Therefore, I am saying that Members of Parliament, especially those who sit along the sugar belt, must raise this issue in Parliament now. I am not a Parliamentarian to raise this issue. I am not collecting $50,000 to run an office, I am not collecting an MP salary of thousands of dollars and allowances,” he said with the crowd clapping and shouting in agreement.
Nirvan continued: “I am saying that there are Members of Parliament who are being paid to represent their constituencies and the time has come for you to call upon your MPs in the sugar belt to stand up and demand that the government and parliament debate the issue of ex-Car workers as a matter of national urgent importance. It must be done otherwise you will never get what is due to you.”
Photo : Keith McDonald and David Sookraj of Orange Valley
It was a peaceful march along the Narsaloo Ramaya Road. There was a mild police presence. The media personnel positioned themselves at vantage points along the route to the Ministry of Agriculture. Upon reaching the Ministry of Agriculture, the gates were closed and then a security officer snapped the lock. With a presence of a senior police officer in khaki ( not Happy Divali) monitoring the situation, and the regular security officer going back and forth, the gates were finally opened.
Nirvan Maharaj entered the compound with Chandra Mahabir- age 70 from Felicity and the eldest worker in the march- accompanying him to the office of the Permanent Secretary. The Minister was unavailable and the letter was received by the Permanent Secretary.
President Nirvan Maharaj announced that if the needs of the ex-Caroni workers are not handled immediately, “I would be leading a march to the Office of the Prime Minister. “The enthusiastic and eager crowd was supportive of his proposition.
The approximately 150 ex-Caroni workers present were high spirits. Despite their suffering they were always jovial, patient and hopeful. It is unimaginable that a people who have been cheated by the State can still smile and laugh and not resort to act of violence to highlight their grievances. I guess it is this frame of mind and inner strength that give them the energy to keep on fighting.