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Hundreds of shrimp processing workers to be laid off

BEV Enterprises, Houston, East Bank Demerara.

More than 300 workers of the privately-owned BEV Enterprises will be laid off next month, leaving them with few choices to earn a daily living.

A number of the workers said their last day of work will be July 15, 2018.

At least 17 trawlers owned by individuals and one company are faced with the grim possibility of docking their multi-million dollar vessels for several months to come.

The trawlers supply BEV Enterprises with shrimp for processing and sale to export markets. The vessels dock at the Houston, East Bank Demerara-based state-owned Guyana Fisheries Limited (GFL) wharf which BEV leases.

Trawler owners and BEV workers told Demerara Waves Online News that they were notified last week Friday ( June 1, 2018) about the company’s impending closure. Trawler owners were summoned by BEV management individually, told of the decision and subsequently handed letters of contract termination. BEV workers were informed at a staff meeting that they will be sent home next month.

Industry sources also said BEV is concerned that a number of the trawler owners do not want to install cameras and other required technologies that are required by the Ministry of Agriculture and importers who have to be abide by international standards.

BEV workers offloading sea-bob from a trawler at Houston, East Bank Demerara.

Reasons given for BEV’s decision include a loss of  some international markets for shrimp, low prices, higher taxation and Bruce Vieria’s age. Demerara Waves Online News understands that the price of imported sea-bobs has declined because the United States has been able to satisfy its domestic demand with larger farm-raised sea-bobs at cheaper prices.

Bruce Vieria later told Demerara Waves Online News that the major reason is his age coupled with a number of challenges and rules. “It is just that general challenges that, at my age, I don’t want to have to continue. Basically, is a long time I wanted to sell but it is just that I decided to quit now and I have given the people proper notice. The industry has gotten too complicated and too many challenges,” he said.

Noting that he has a just-commenced a five-year lease for using the wharf, he stressed that no one from government or ExxonMobil had anything to do with his decision, Vieria instead said the trawlers are required to abide by new rules. “For us to qualify for outside sustainability certification, we have to put in a whole set of things to be able to continue exporting a couple of years from now and I am not up to those challenges right now,” Vieria said. A number of workers have claimed that ExxonMobil needs the wharf and the land that BEV uses for its oil and gas shorebase operations.

One of the workers, who has been employed by BEV for 13 years, said last week Friday’s staff meeting that lasted less than 15 minutes was too short a notice at a time when jobs are hard to get for the many single-parents, persons who have mortgages and other debts to service. “It came so rash. Only day before yesterday we know.  They are taking away bread and giving you biscuit,” the worker said.

Andy Sugrim, a labourer who works for trawlers and fishing boats, at the Houston wharf called on the authorities to ensure that people do not end up becoming thieves due to a loss of jobs. “We can’t go and chop cane because cane ain’t deh,” he said.

Privately-owned trawlers docked at the Guyana Fisheries Limited wharf, Houston, East Bank Demerara.

Just before going into a meeting with other trawler owners, one of them remarked that BEV Enterprises’ closure “will be a great impact”. Mr. Singh, who owns trawler, Miss Maya, said “when me break the news to my wife, tears come to her eyes…What will happen to us?,” he queried.

Trawler captain, Lakeram Mahadeo is also worried that he would lose his job when that fish processing plant ceases operations. “It must affect me because I want to know who will be there to take off the load,” said the father of two school-going children.

President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union, Komal Chand said management has not yet, by law, officiaaly informed the union of the reasons for shutting down BEV Enterprises.

He, however, bemoaned the retrenchment of the workers, saying it adds to the loss of thousands of jobs at the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO). “If they are not going to be engaged in other endeavours by the BEV company, it would be another boost in the large number of unemployed persons… so this is a worrying situation because unemployed people has its own effects in the society,”  Chand told Demerara Waves Online News.

One year ago, BEV closed its fish processing operation.