Several hundreds of former workers and family members turned out to the ceremonial distribution of the funds that took place at the secretariat of the SWRF. So large was the number of people that many stood on the south side of Independence Square and listened to the various presenters.
About 10 years after the first payments to 968 sugar workers, and following complaints from sugar workers that their payment was very small, the Team Unity alliance, which now forms the Government, campaigned in the last general elections held earlier this year to secure the shortfall to be paid to workers. That was done a few months ago, and today the distribution process begun for 2,311 former sugar workers and claiming families of deceased sugar workers.
Presenting the featured address, Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris took the opportunity to jab his political foes saying that they denied workers their due justice citing references to alleged remarks by the previous Labour Administration that the sugar workers were not entitled to any additional payments. However, rumours persisted over the years that there was a shortfall in the amount paid out.
He said, “Without a Team Unity government this day would have never come to the former sugar workers. To God be the Glory. Team Unity is here thanks to the people… This is what we meant when we said a fresh start in industrial relations. This is what we meant when we said a fresh start in ending the exploitation of the worker. A fresh start for fairness. A fresh start for justice for the laboring masses. Today may be as propitious an occasion as any to remind the entire country that our Team Unity government would lead by example. Our word is our bond. What we say we will do; we certainly will do in a timely, responsible and deliberate way.”
Minister of Agriculture Eugene Hamilton provided some useful financial advice to the recipients of the sugar fund. He advised, “Saving is as important to nation building as spending. That’s why I don’t want you to spend it off… I call on all of you on this 32nd anniversary of Independence to be thrifty as you deal with the funds that you receive from this generous payout.”
Premier Vance Amory, speaking in his capacity as the federal minister of labour, said the moment was historic and the payout would have brought closure to an era involving a sugar industry that was the backbone of the economic and social life of the federation.
He said that the Department of Labour and the Social Security Board provided resources and support for the culmination today to share this reward to you. He explained, “In providing their staff to ensure that the records were clear, to ensure that there was very little left to guess-work, so that those of you who receive your cheques today can know that it is fair, based on the criteria that were established.
The distribution of cheques to former sugar workers will continue on Independence Day during the morning and into next week as well.