Basseterre, St. Kitts (October 27, 2015) — A former sugar worker who does not hide the fact that he wasted the best years of his life working on the estates, and was paid almost nothing for his labour, is grateful that he has now received what he called ‘goat water’ thanks to the efforts of the Prime Minister the Hon Dr Timothy Harris.
Born in 1930 in Parsons Village, Mr Alfred James Mason went to school at Bethel but at the age of 14 he started working in the sugar industry, first weeding cane with his mother. He then joined a gang and rose in ranks from a cane cutter and ended up as a tractor driver hauling cane. He was retired in 2002 at age 72 because the industry wanted younger drivers.
When the industry closed in 2005, and there was a huge pay-out, he thought he would benefit handsomely. That was not the case. So infuriated by what happened, when Mr Mason was recently asked if he was paid after the sugar industry closed he curtly answered: “No”
His son, Mr James Mason, who was present, corrected him and said, “Yes”, but the old man sternly looked at his son and asked him, “What they paid me?”
The son explained to him that many of the former sugar workers who had retired before it closed were paid an ex-gratia payment of EC$1,500. It was only then that his memory recollected and he said: “When Douglas shut down the sugar crop, I get $1,500.”
Now aged 85, Mr Mason has limited mobility and has to use a walker to assist him to move around in his house. Life changed for him on Thursday October 22, when two Sugar Workers Restoration Fund (SWRF) Officers who have been delivering gratuity cheques to former sugar workers that cannot make it to Basseterre, Ms Thyra Gumbs and Ms Diana Duncan, paid him a visit.
Asked how he got to know about the new pay-out, Mr Mason said that he heard it over the air and he did not doubt it as some people did. He applied when the Sugar Workers Restoration Fund officials visited the villages. He said he was glad that he applied, and thanked the two officers who brought the gratuity cheque to him.
“This time I have been paid better,” said Mr Mason after he signed for, and received his gratuity cheque. “I know the Prime Minister looked for and got a grant to pay us. This is much more better, after I lose all my strength in the sugar industry.
“I get something: I could drink some goat water now.”
Still in Parsons Village, about two streets away from Mr Alfred Mason’s house is another former sugar worker, Mrs Mary Patrick, who was born in 1933. She said before she became a Patrick, she was a Mason. She explained she is Mr Alfred Mason’s younger sister.
The two SWRF Officers did not go to her house to deliver a cheque, as she had already travelled to Basseterre and collected her cheque. The two officers were assisting her because she was in the process of making a claim on behalf of her deceased husband, who had also worked in the sugar industry.
She was advised to visit the SWRF offices at South Independence Square where three lawyers appointed by the government were helping all the persons claiming on behalf of their deceased relatives.
Giving her experience in the sugar industry, Mrs Patrick said that she started working in about 1949 where she did farming, weeding, and spreading trash. She worked until 1990 and still has in her possession some payslips and the envelopes that contained them, which she proudly showed to the SWRF Officers.
“After I stopped working I did not have anything to do again I just put it up with my little pension what they gave us,” said Mrs Patrick. Asked if she was paid when the industry closed in 2005, she said: “I was not paid anything: Me I get nothing, not a thing, not a thing.”
When asked how she got to know that there was a new pay-out for the former sugar workers, she said that she heard over the air – on radio and TV. She explained that she would use the money she received to repair her roof.
“Oh I am happy, yeah man,” said Mrs Patrick when asked how she felt about the new pay-out to the former sugar workers. “It is a great help; you hear!”