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Govt not doing enough for former Caroni workers, says union boss

By Sue-Ann Wayow sue-ann.wayow@trinidadexpress.com  

GOVERNMENT is not doing enough to assist former Caroni (1975) Ltd workers and farmers in this country, says Nirvan Maharaj, president-general of the All Trinidad General Workers Union (ATGWU).

Speaking at the union's 75th anniversary celebration at Rienzi Complex in Couva on Saturday, Maharaj said the Government was not adhering to a High Court judgment, which ruled that former Caroni workers were supposed to be given a lease for two acres of agricultural land and one lot of land for residential use, before June 2008.

The People's Partnership Government, since coming into office in 2010, has given out hundreds of leases to the workers, but there are several problems still to be solved.

Maharaj asked, "Why is the Government following in the footsteps of the former regime (the People's National Movement) and showing contempt for the Deyalsingh judgment?

"What is the sinister plot, is it that they are planning to go to Guyana to engage in agriculture, while placing all of our lands in the Ministry of Housing so that prime agricultural lands could be used for housing?

"Does the Government and those who make decisions involving the agriculture sector believe that in a food shortage, we the citizens of this nation will be content to eat glass and concrete and paint and steel?"

"If after ten years, 25 per cent of the provisions of the VSEP (Voluntary Separation of Employment Package) with regard to land development and distribution have taken place, then that is plenty," Maharaj added.

"Yet the Government is seeking to go to Guyana to engage in agriculture, while turning a blind eye to the plight of the farmers and cane farmers and ex-Caroni workers in Trinidad and Tobago."

Earlier this month, Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj visited Guyana to discuss how T&T's food import bill can be reduced with the help of Guyana by utilising Guyanese lands for farming.

Maharaj said if the Partnership Government does not act swiftly, they would lose support.

He also told the audience to not forget the struggles the union endured.

"Never forget that as strange as it may seem to us today, there was a time in this nation of ours when men were willing to fight and die for causes and nothing more. When men genuinely believed in the concept of equality and brotherhood and were willing to sacrifice themselves so that the people of this nation could have a better life." Those struggles were not yet over, said Maharj, as unions continued to fight for better wages and working conditions.

He said labour played a critical role in the shaping of society and it must not be taken lightly.

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