Barbados is on the verge of losing its entire 2014 sugar crop, says Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick. And, he is blaming it on the Barbados Workers’ Union’s (BWU) holding the sector to ransom over “an apology”.
Estwick’s rebuke came this afternoon as workers of Portvale Sugar Factory continued their crippling strike action that began last Thursday.
The minister too expressed “dire” concern about the deteriorating quality of the cane juice every day the canes already harvested or burnt remained unprocessed, while addressing the closing session of a Barbados Agricultural Society-organized symposium on Moving Towards A Viable And Vibrant Agricultural Sector. His fear is that if it the strike continues much longer, all that may be left is acid juice, which would be of no value to Barbados.
“My background is in chemistry and physics, and maths; so I went and did the research myself. So I know what is the window of opportunity we have of viability of sugar cane under these type of temperatures and pressure arrangements, and so on. It is not good. It is not good,” Estwick said.
“The reality is, we are on the precipice of losing the entire sugar crop,” the minister declared to groans from farmers gathered for the symposium at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
“You cannot do this to Barbados now. I don’t care what the circumstances are. Yuh can’t do it. Can’t do it!”
The Portvale employees are off the job in solidarity with 57 workers laid off from the Andrew’s Sugar Factory earlier this month.
BWU general secretary Sir Roy Trotman is demanding an apology from the BAMC over the manner in which it laid off those workers. The union is also insisting on enhanced severance packages. However, Estwick argued an apology was no basis for holding the entire sector to ransom.
“My personal view is that it would be a travesty to have started a crop that has the potential to earn foreign exchange when we have a foreign exchange crisis going on, and someone is going to tell me, they want an apology. An apology can be a basis?”asked the Cabinet minister.
“When you start to going into this level, I going into a different zone of thinking; and my response might not be very cultural and defined.”
As for the union’s demands for enhanced severance packages, Estwick said he had read the Employees Rights Act, the Severance Payments Act, and all the other relevant laws, and “even if you have a difference in timing, you can’t translate it into that type of behaviour”.
“That is why I now understand what some old philosophers would say –– that an irresponsible union is a threat to national development . . . . A responsible union can help economic growth and development,” Estwick asserted. “And I understand more so now than ever.”
The Minister of Agriculture minister said he strongly hoped that a resolution could be reached soon. If there was none, he said, a contingency plan would have to go into effect. However, Estwick did not elaborate on that plan.