Couva South MP Rudy Indarsingh says the Agriculture Minister’s recent announcement regarding the State’s plan to repossess lands given to ex-Caroni workers, is contentious at the least and rooted in disregard for the legally binding industrial process that made the lands an entitlement of the former workers of Caroni (1975) Limited.
Indarsingh, in a release, said “These lands were the result of a legally-binding arrangement registered in the Industrial Court of Trinidad and Tobago as Number 9 of 2003. It was derived after negotiation between Caroni (1975) Ltd and the All Trinidad General Workers Union, which was the majority union representing the workers. We must recall the reluctance of the then PNM Government of Patrick Manning to award these lands to ex- Caroni workers, and they were forced to do so only after an injunction was granted by the Industrial Court to the Union, so that the Government would be forced to return to the negotiating table to properly assess and deliver on the dues to ex-Caroni workers.”
He added “The Minister (Clarence Rambharat) is fast, out of place and exhibiting scant regard for the law and the collective bargaining process.”
“One must now question the real motive behind the Minister’s legally and ethically misinformed statement that inferred that the State would seize lands not being farmed by ex-Caroni workers.”
According to Indarsingh, “There are many factors that must be considered in terms of agricultural investment. To date, considerable expanses of such lands lack proper road access, electricity, water and drainage. In addition, the economic burdens on existing and potential farmers and businesspersons alike have increased exponentially, since the Minister and his colleagues assumed Government some 6 years ago.”
He said “It is infuriating that the Minister continues to make statements aimed at demonizing ex- Caroni (1975) Limited workers, while he seems unbothered about the status and occupancy of farming lands elsewhere, such as in Wallerfield, Chaguaramas and Carlsen Field.”
“As a former President General of the All Trinidad General Workers Trade Union and as a former Minister in the Ministry of Finance, I condemn the Minister’s comments as a legally misdirected attempt to vilify ex- workers of the defunct Caroni (1975) Limited, supposedly in an aim to score political points with the section of the Minister’s base which likes to provoke portions of the population that are assumed as being unsupportive of the Minister’s political party.”
“This Government continues to make light of the industrial climate in this country, as they attempt to rule by Ministerial decree rather than by observing law, order and the supremacy of the collective bargaining process and the Industrial Court.”
Indarsingh added “What has the Minister delivered during his tenure to ensure that lands given to ex- Caroni workers have been equipped with access roads, irrigation ponds, drainage and other infrastructural considerations?
Minister Rambharat has failed woefully to incentivize farming and to develop such lands, and he ought to deliver to ex-Caroni workers before attempting to provoke and vilify them for his cheap political gains.”
However, the Agriculture Minister, in an interview with the Newsday, said “The issue is not the rights of the former (Caroni 1975 Ltd) workers to the state-owned land under the 2003 VSEP (voluntary separation of employment packages)… but the obligations under the leases to use the land for agriculture.”