Sugar workers housing dilemma

Thousands of former sugar workers,
left jobless after the Government’s redundancy axe fell on some 7,000 of them
in 2008, are now at risk of losing their homes, even as others have had to
watch houses and land intended for them, sold on the open market. The
open-market sale by the National Housing Trust in the face of a more than
four-fold jump, since last year, in arrears on subsidised property sold to
sugar workers, has set some trade unions on a collision course with the
state-owned housing finance agency.

“The unions object to this
practice,” Vincent Morrison, president of the National Workers Union said.

“It is more than a concern. It
is a serious breach of the arrangements. The arrangements belong to sugar
workers and we are insisting that, until all the sugar workers are properly
satisfied, none of the units should be sold to outside groups,” Morrison
said.

While the NHT is yet to respond to
the questions about the number of houses and house lots earmarked for sugar
workers, which have been diverted to regular purchasers, Hanif Brown,
Bustamante Industrial Trade Union assistant island supervisor and mayor of
Morant Bay in St Thomas said the NHT recently placed 114 such housing lots on
the market because of the inability of sugar workers to buy them.

The lots were in the Frome area of
Westmoreland and were put on the market in November, Brown said.

“Initially some workers were
not keen on taking up the lots,” Brown pointed out, explaining that the
reluctance resulted from job security concerns on the part of the workers.

A total 13,000 sugar workers are
slated to join the unemployment line by the time the government wraps up the
divestment of all its sugar holdings. Factories and land at Frome, Monymusk in
Clarendon and Bernard Lodge in St Catherine are still under government control,
while others in St Thomas and Trelawny have already been sold.

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