Basseterre, St. Kitts (December 1, 2015) — 60-year-old Mr William Alcender of Lodge Village has had his fair share of misadventures, but is profusely thanking Prime Minister the Hon Dr Timothy Harris for giving him a profound fresh start in life.
For 33 years he toiled in the sugar industry. In 2004 he left the industry for a new opening elsewhere, which he now believes was the start of his misadventures as when the sugar industry closed the following year in 2005 he was not paid anything.
He only watched as most of his former colleagues walked away with cheques even though some still complained that they were underpaid, but a payment that he did not enjoy.
“Me worked 33 years in the industry,” notes Mr Alcender. “I worked Wing Field, I worked Stone Fort, I worked Bourryeaux, I worked Lodge, I worked Ottley, and I worked Brighton. I gave water first and I hold brakes second and then I cut cane third. I hold brakes for the tractor to control the tractor’s trailer from turning over.
“When the industry closed I was not paid anything because I end the crop in 2004, me no end crop in 2005. I locked up the crop 2004, I went elsewhere. So when it closed in 2005 I was not considered.”
Ms Clarice Smithen, who was born in 1959, worked in the industry from 1980 until it closed in 2005. That she was still working when it closed, she was paid EC$5,000 an amount she accepted even though she knew that was far below her true entitlement.
According to Mr Alcender, Ms Smithen worked at Brighton and Lodge estates, initially weeding and taking grass out of the cane, then cutting cane and finally was heading soda, all of which were backbreaking jobs for a woman.
In 2006 Mr William Alcender married Ms Smithen and the two vowed to move on with life while hoping that one day their having been robbed of their rightful entitlements as former sugar industry workers would be addressed and the matter brought to a meaningful closure.
There was a ray of light when Team Unity while still in opposition announced that if elected into government they would remedy the injustice that had been meted out to former sugar workers by paying them the balance of EC$16 million which is the amount those in the know said was still owed to them.
However, before the light at the end of the tunnel could properly take shape and brighten up their lives, the tragic yet unavoidable happened. Ms Smithen died in 2013. After a period of mourning, Mr Alcender went on with life but closely monitoring activities of the leader of the then Opposition Team Unity the Hon Dr Timothy Harris, as he knew that he would deliver.
If Mr William Alcender is a day dreamer, then the country needs more like him. After the February 16, 2015 elections the Hon Dr Timothy Harris was sworn in as the new Prime Minister of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, and a major manifesto commitment of the Team Unity Administration of the EC$16 million to the former sugar workers was fulfilled.
“This is a wonderful effort and thanks to the Team Unity Administration,” said Mr William Alcender. “I really appreciate it, thanks to Dr Harris who went and get himself overseas for us and get the money to pay us all the former sugar workers and I thank him all the time.”
When announcement was made that the Sugar Workers Restoration Fund (SWRF) was seeking information from all the former sugar workers, Mr Alcender went to the SWRF Secretariat and made an application for himself. He has so far been paid his dues which he now believes would never have been paid were it not for the Hon Dr Timothy Harris.
But he went even further. He applied on behalf of Ms Clarice Smithen. “When the industry closed, she was paid only five thousand dollars,” he said. “I believe she was not paid enough and that is the reason I made the claim on her behalf.”
Last week Thursday, November 26, Mr Alcender was at the SWRF Secretariat at the South Independence Square in Basseterre where he again benefitted from the Team Unity Administration’s pledge to address the injustices meted out to the former sugar workers.
Instead of spending money going to a lawyer to have letters of administration prepared to allow him to claim from the estate of his late wife, he was assisted Mr Leon Charles, a lawyer who is on the Sugar Workers Restoration Fund Committee.
What even impressed Mr Alcender more was the fact that Mr Charles is not one of the lawyers who have been contracted by the government to assist persons claiming on behalf of deceased former sugar workers.
When the government constituted the SWRF Committee, the St. Christopher and Nevis Social Security Board which has a strong database in terms of the persons who would have worked in different industries over the years was asked to nominate a person to be on the SWRF Committee.
Mr Leon Charles, who is Social Security’s Legal Officer, was nominated. It happens that Mr Charles is currently on vacation from Social Security and he decided to offer free services to persons claiming on behalf of deceased former sugar workers, and Mr William Alcender happened to be one of the many beneficiaries.