While Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler is advising disgruntled sugar workers that they will receive all outstanding monies before the start of the 2018 sugar crop, the minister is also warning private farmers that they may have to wait a while for payment at the conclusion of this year’s harvest.
Sinckler yesterday said the majority of the debt to farmers had already been paid and any balances would be settled before the start of the crop.
However, he said Government was having difficulty raising the required funds to pay for the upcoming season.
“There will be issues pertaining to the 2018-2019 payment because Government has to find the resources to work with the farmers. We don’t have a whole lot of people rushing to lend Government money to support the industry, as has been the case before. We use to float sugar bonds and people would subscribe to those bonds and you used to take that money and put it in but that has come back to almost zero,” Sinckler told journalists on the sidelines of the St Michael North West annual kite-flying contest at the Carlton grounds.
“So sometimes it takes a little longer for us to raise the money or to accumulate sufficient money from the consolidated fund to be able to put into the enterprise as quickly as some people may want,” he added, while going on to stress that while “delays in payment frustrate farmers, they need to recognize that Government was dealing with the most stellar circumstances”.
The Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) last month warned that the harvest might not be a smooth one if the issues affecting workers were not quickly resolved.
The workers, drawn from private sugar plantations, as well as those under the Government-owned Barbados Agricultural Management Company, had met to discuss outstanding negotiations on terms and conditions of employment.
Some concerns included a lack of communication among the major stakeholders, poor working facilities and outstanding pay.
After the talks BWU Deputy General Secretary Dwaine Paul had said: “Even when the crop does start, we cannot guarantee that the crop would run smoothly should these issues continue to rear their heads . . . . We will not be standing for it in 2018. Sugar workers have had all they can take as it relates to disrespect both by management and the Parliament of Barbados.”
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Barbados Sugar Industry Limited Mark Sealy said private farmers were owed $8.9 million from last year’s harvest and other incentives from 2016.
They were also awaiting word from the Barbados Cane Industry Corporation to confirm the price being paid for canes this year.
However, Sinckler argued that a serious conversation must be had on the future of the sugar industry, which many believe is on its last leg due to a significant decline in production over the years.
And he urged workers to bear in mind that the “sugar industry was a complicated one” and therefore solutions were not always straightforward.
“I don’t think there is any other industry in Barbados as heavily subsidized, and basically taxpayers have been keeping this industry alive. What we sell on the world market is currently lower in value than what it cost to produce. Now, everybody knows that this is not sustainable and has to change radically. In the meantime as we move towards that eventual solution, we have to talk about the best way of holding the current space together without causing a calamitous collapse that would affect the more than 3,000 workers that interface directly and indirectly with the industry,” he stressed.