The management and staff of the state-owned sugar producer, Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC) – some 370 workers from the office to field and factory – have been severed as the government moves ahead with getting out of the sugar industry.
But the workers have automatically become shareholder-employees as BAMC becomes two privately owned companies that have been created from the divestment, Chief Executive Officer Orlanda Atherley confirmed on Wednesday.
BAMC, which runs the island’s last remaining sugar factory at Portvale, St James and the farmlands that supply it with sugar cane, is divesting its farming and factory operations into two separate firms.
Although negotiations were still ongoing, Atherley confirmed that the majority shareholder company taking over the BAMC would be the Barbados Sustainable Energy Co-operative Society Limited (Co-op Energy). The company is expected to take over the running of the sugar manufacturing business, including the generation of electricity from the sugar cane by-product, bagasse.
President of Coop Energy, retired Lieutenant Colonel Trevor Browne told Barbados TODAY on Wednesday that his company was on track to take over.
Asked how soon he expected to start, Lt Col Browne replied: “August.”
Atherley explained that the workers were told that the move to divest BAMC was part of the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) programme to restructure several state-owned enterprises including BAMC.
“It’s just a transition,” said Atherley, who signed the staff’s severance letters.
He said that all the workers were given the same correspondence on Tuesday notifying them of the plan: “You will be severed from BAMC which is one entity and then they will be employed by a private company as 45 per cent shareholders.”
Atherley, who too was severed, told Barbados TODAY the correspondence is in keeping with the provisions of the Employment Rights Act which requires employers to give workers six weeks’ notice when they are being terminated.
He said: “The letter is just a formality though that is required under the Employment Rights Act that you have to do six weeks’ consultation,” he said. “The letter said all the workers will be severed, which is what you have to do because you are going into a different space with two private companies where there is a majority shareholder. The workers will also be shareholders. The workers will be 45 per cent shareholders.”
The island’s private sugar farmers had indicated they had no interest in ownership of the state agency responsible for the management, production and sale of sugar and its estates.
Chairman of the Barbados Sugar Industry Limited (BSIL) Mark Sealy told Barbados TODAY in early September that his organisation did not submit any proposals to the Government to take over BAMC.
“We had a consultant company that came down here and did quite a bit of work and so on, and we were also doing some financial numbers which are nearing completion but besides that, no, we haven’t submitted any [proposals],” he said.