Barbados and the world’s first and oldest rum distillery has closed its doors, workers are left out of pocket, and a rumoured buyout deal to salvage the 346-year-old company might have fallen through.
Barbados TODAY has found out that following a series of three temporary layoff letters dating back to September 23, last year, workers of Mount Gay Distillery, St Lucy, were on December 18 handed termination notes, immediately halting their employment because the company was closing.
In spite of the December shut down, workers were living off NIS benefits since receiving the September letter, and have heard nothing more from company directors.
Hopes by workers for payment soon of the compensation in lieu of notice, severance, and gratuity were dashed last Saturday with reports that a long-rumoured buyout deal to salvage the company fell through.
The severed employees believed that the buyout deal would have seen the new owners assuming liabilities of the financially strapped the company, including meeting outstanding payment to the 30 workers. But now some are fearful for even their pensions, as they claim to have unofficially learnt that payment to the two company retirement plans had halted – the first and older plan stopping in 2007 and scheme in 2010.
“The distillery has been closed since the end of September last year,” managing director Frank Ward told Barbados TODAY. “It has not operated since September last year. The employees were terminated on the 18th, on that date in December . . . . The company has ceased production. We are not officially closed. We have not rounded up operations of the company. It has ceased production for the time being, that’s all.”
A letter signed by Ward and given to workers on December 18 read, “Please be advised that the Rum Refinery of Mount Gay Limited has ceased its operations, pending a decision by the shareholders on the future of the company. It is therefore with regret that I must inform you that your employment by the company is now terminated”.
He told Barbados TODAY this afternoon, “Anything further relating to the affairs of the company, it would be fitting and proper of the company chairman to give it to you”.
Ward said company chairman Brian Wellington, lives in Trinidad and Tobago, and he, the managing director, had no immediately available contact information for the chairman.
Ward confirmed that workers had received no money from the company since their first letter in September 2013, but packages with a number of compensatory benefits were owed to them.
One worker, Winslow Waithe, a senior lab technician who has been with the company for 20 years, said that his NIS allowance will end this month, and he is worried that the company is showing no signs that it will pay on the monies due to him and colleagues.
Waithe said, “Benefits that I am entitled to would be vacation payment, and payment in lieu of notice, which I haven’t received; and to go along with that, my pension as well, which I haven’t received, as well as severance”.
Mount Gay began in a sugar estate in St Lucy named Mount Gilboa, where a still was established 346 years ago, but despite a 1667 original production the official date of first manufacture of rum for the world was 1703.