Nevis’ contribution to the sugar industry on the island of St. Kitts was brought to the fore Thursday October 15, when two officers from the Sugar Workers Restoration Fund (SWRF) travelled to Charlestown to deliver gratuity cheques to former sugar workers.
According to SWRF Officer Ms Thyra Gumbs, who was in the company of SWRF Officer Ms Diana Duncan, Nevisians also worked in the sugar industry in St. Kitts, but while many opted to settle in St. Kitts, a few returned to Nevis either after they retired or after the industry closed.
“The sugar industry closed in 2005, and those who would have returned to Nevis before that date did not get any severance pay,” pointed out Ms Gumbs. “They were however entitled for gratuity payment after Prime Minister the Hon Dr Timothy Harris got a grant from the Venezuelan government of EC$16 million to pay the aggrieved former sugar workers.”
She said that several persons on Nevis applied, and were successful. But while those who are still strong were able to travel to St. Kitts to collect their cheques that was not the case with five who are advanced in age or incapacitated, and the reason they travelled to Nevis to deliver their cheques.
Four of the cheques were delivered to the recipients at the Federal Office on Government Road, while one was delivered to a resident at the Flamboyant Nursing Home.
First to receive her cheque was Mrs Iris Nisbett of Jessup in the Parish of St. Thomas, who was accompanied by her daughter, Ms Valarie Browne. Mrs Nisbett, who will be 78 in December, said that she lived in St. Kitts for many years and worked in the sugar industry cutting cane.
A second resident of Jessup Mr Fredrick Robins-Doras, said that he went to St. Kitts in 1965 and worked on a number of estates cutting cane until 1988 when he developed a hernia and after an operation to have it removed he could not go back to work, and he returned to Nevis.
“I work at Con-Phipps, I work at Lamberts,” said Mr Doras. “I work at West Farm and the two last estates I worked were Needsmust and Stapleton. When the sugar industry closed in 2005 they did not give me anything because when I go they give me a different story. I am happy now that I am being paid for the years that I worked.”
Mr Steadroy Pemberton never worked in the sugar industry in St. Kitts, but his two elder brothers did. He got involved because one of his brothers Mr Weston Kelly who was born in 1937 in Nevis is currently a resident at the Flamboyant Nursing Home and could therefore not be in a position to apply.
But as Mr Pemberton was being asked on which estates his elder brother worked, Mr Weston Kelly who was being assisted to sign for his cheque by Ms Diana Duncan said: “I work all over.” He was able to remind them that he first worked at Brighton, and “then all over”, cutting cane.
“My brother went to St. Kitts in the sixties,” said Mr Pemberton. “He worked at Brighton, and Hermitage, among other estates. He worked until Hurricane Hugo in September 1989 and after Hugo he finished. He came back over here to live. When the industry closed, he did not get anything.”
Mr Pemberton said that when the new announcement was made, someone told him about it and requested him to go to the Flamboyant Nursing Home to find out from his brother how many years he had worked in the industry. When Ms Thyra Gumbs came to the Federal Office along with other SWRF officials, he went there to get more information.
“I made an application on behalf of my brother and now I am seeing the result of the application,” said Mr Pemberton. “I am very pleased with what happened, you understand? Every sugar worker get a little of what they put in. Probably if Prime Minister Harris wasn’t there they would have gotten nothing. So they should be thankful for what they are getting right now.”
He said he was fully aware of a number of Nevisians who worked in the sugar industry in St. Kitts, including another brother who has since passed away. He however said that the son of his late brother who lives in St. Kitts must have applied for him because he told him (the son) to apply.
“Those who did not apply, nobody can blame anyone as the information was out there for all to hear,” said Mr Pemberton. “I believe what happened is that the people and them stay back and relax too much and then when they find out what sort of payment people getting, they want to come forward and it was too late for them.
“To me, my brother has gotten his fair share.”