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Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Christopher Tufton, is optimistic that the ongoing negotiations with Brazilian company, Infinity Bio-Energy, will conclude in the signing of an agreement for the takeover of the country’s five state-owned sugar companies, with the Government holding a minority share.
“We remain optimistic that we will have a conclusion but we are not there as yet…however, we did take a decision to proceed with the redundancy exercise, which is part of the heads of agreement, of the just under 7,127 workers on the five estates,” Dr. Tufton stated.
He was speaking to journalists at the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing today (Dec. 23) at Jamaica House.
The redundancy exercise got underway last Thursday (Dec.18), with the more than 7,000 sugar workers receiving 14-week notice payments amounting to $646 million. Dr. Tufton said that the payment process went smoothly, with only a two per cent query in regard to payment calculations.
A sum of $131,825,322 million was disbursed to the Frome sugar estate in Westmoreland, which has 1,799 employees, while the 1,650 employees of Monymusk, Clarendon received $113,737,503 million.
Trelawny sugar estate’s 832 employees received $60,820,050 million; $95,078,457 million was paid to workers of Bernard Lodge, St. Catherine; and St. Thomas sugar estate workers received $75,010,092 million. In addition, the 223 non-unionized staff received payments totaling $169,935,621 million.
Just over $300 million of the payments were made by wire transfer to the employees’ accounts, while the remainder was paid directly to the workers, who collected at the respective estates.
Dr. Tufton explained that in anticipation of the completion date of the agreement with Infinity, an interim arrangement has been put in place to ensure that the factories are secure and maintained with regards to the harvesting of the current sugar crop.
“Normally, Frome starts off around this time of the year.the date has been pushed back to the first week in January…we had an issue with machinery (and) equipment arriving late…we are now dealing with that to ensure that the other factory is now adequately prepared to start. The tradition is that the factories would follow suit within a few weeks after,” he outlined.
The interim arrangement includes a staff complement of approximately 600 workers, primarily comprising security personnel, to ensure that the properties are intact, human resource and accounting personnel, and a core management team.
“The anticipation is that we will work towards attempting to conclude an arrangement with Infinity Bio-Energy, so that the start of the crop can be within the timeframe as indicated,” Dr. Tufton said.
“The workers can be assured of the completion of the redundancy exercise, so that the full payment that is due to them under the law, they will receive, within the period specified by the law. They can also be assured that we are working as a Government to ensure the start of the next crop is as soon as possible… under the new company Newco, and will involve a large percentage of the existing workers,” the Agriculture Minister stated.
Some 105,000 tonnes of sugar is expected to be produced from the current sugar crop, which will be an improvement over last year’s production, Dr. Tufton disclosed.