Sugar industry in crisis

The crisis in the Jamaican sugar industry has worsened following a decision by the Sugar Company of Jamaica to close the Frome sugar factory in Westmoreland indefinitely.

The SCJ’s move comes in the wake of ongoing worker unrest at the facility, which it said has compromised the safety of its management staff and other employees, according to the Jamaica Gleaner.

In a statement issued yesterday, Livingston Morrison, chief executive officer of the SCJ, said that “the closure became necessary in order to protect life and property as following several costly disruptions, a small group has issued threats and are demanding the removal of managers and other employees.”

“The development disrupts the long period of stability in the industrial relations climate in the sugar industry,” said Mr. Morrison.

According to the statement, the “uncertainties surrounding the change of ministerial responsibilities, and the activities of the All Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association, which includes a call for the dismissal of the management, are having a major destabilising effect on the operation of the entities.”

On Saturday, scores of workers invaded the offices of Curbette Victorine, assistant operations and agriculture manager at the factory. Mr. Victorine fled the offices and hid until the police arrived to ensure his safety.

“We have 1,500 tonnes of cane lying idle on the compound, while thousands more were ordered from farmers but they cannot be transported to the factory at this time,” said a factory official who spoke under condition of anonymity. “At this time our average would be 350 to 370 tonnes of sugar per day. We are running losses into $11 million to $11 million.”

When The Gleaner visited the facility yesterday, some workers were conducting tours of the factory, while others played dominoes and drank in Mr. Victorine’s office.

“The workers feel that Mr. Victorine’s performance was not in the best interest of the industry. It is very unlikely that they would meet their target of reaping 49,000 tonnes of sugar from this crop,” said Cassidy Meghoo, University and Allied Workers Union delegate.

Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke said yesterday that the situation at Frome has put the island’s sugar industry in jeopardy, making it difficult to capitalise on the benefits of reaping the maximum price from major buyers in the United States and the European Union.

“Anything that stops the factory for even a day affects the quota in a very negative way,” Mr. Clarke noted.

“This year we were blessed with getting a little more from the US market and it will be the last year we will get maximum price from the EU. We ought to do everything to maximise earnings in this little window of opportunity,” said the Agriculture and Land Minister.

“No one will benefit, neither the workers nor the country and the industry will suffer significantly,” said Mr. Clarke.

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