February 28, 2014
Former Winfarm employees still waiting on outstanding salaries

Months after they were severed from their jobs at Winfarm, the former employees are still trying to obtain their outstanding salaries and severance payments.{{more}}

Winfarm is a company that was formed by the National Fair Trade Organization (NFTO) and WINFA in 2008, to conduct the activities of sale of bananas and other agricultural produce.

A letter sent to SEARCHLIGHT earlier this week said, the workers were sent home in December 2013, after a joint decision was taken by directors of NFTO and Winfarm. Their dismissal came on the heels of the Government’s decision to shift banana buying operations to VincyFresh, for a six month period, due to Winfarm’s poor financial state.

Since then, according to the letter, the 13 workers who were employed at Winfarm have been trying to obtain their outstanding payments.

“Taking into account the relationship that exists between the two entities, Winfarm thought it best to seek the assistance of the National Fair Trade Organization, the parent company of Winfarm to help with the payment of the salaries and severance to the workers,” the letter said.

“Fair Trade has since refused to do so, on the grounds that the company should go to government. The workers are suffering financial embarrassment, and have sought the assistance of the Honourable Minister of Agriculture, the Labour Department and the Commercial Technical Allied Workers Union and other legal advice to obtain their payments.

“On each occasion, they were advised that the parent company Fair Trade should assist Winfarm financially under the circumstances which the workers were sent home”.

SEARCHLIGHT also spoke with one of the employees who were severed. The employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, explained how hard it was to be unemployed, especially when money is owed to them.

“I feel very frustrated right now because unemployment is very high right now. Every door you knock, it’s a no and the bills keep piling. It has been very difficult,” the worker said.

Referring to her colleagues, she noted that they would be going through hard times as well because “since November…they have not been able to service their financial obligations to financial institutions, as well as their utility bills. Some people have suffered loss from institutions where they have come and reclaimed items”.

In an interview with SEARCHLIGHT, chairman of the board of directors for Winfarm, Kioka Abbott-Balcombe described the situation as “very long and complicated”.

Balcombe noted that it is possible that the problem lies in the fact that no one explained to the members of the NFTO what would happen in the event that the company that they incorporated failed, as it relates to who will bear the responsibilities.

“I’ve been asking the members of the NFTO to get a lawyer and to find out what are the legal implications,” Balcombe, who is also the secretary for the NFTO board, said.

The chairman also explained that the workers were severed because Winfarm was not bringing in any money and they did not want to incur any additional debt.

“It pains my heart to see staff workers who have been dedicated, coming to work, doing what they have to do and at the end of the day; no fault of theirs, no fault of Winfarm, it’s just because of the low price that we get for bananas, that they have to be out of a job,” she said.

A worker has indicated to SEARCHLIGHT that the Labour Department is currently doing their research on the companies to see how best they can have the settlement addressed. In addition, the workers have sought legal aid to try to solve the problem.

Labour Commissioner, Fitz Jones confirmed that complaints were lodged at the Labour Department concerning Winfarm.

Jones added that the department has already been in contact with persons who should be responsible for the company.

“We actually have a process when people lodge complaints,” he told SEARCHLIGHT. “We are using the mechanisms which are at our disposal to see if we can get the matter redressed.”

Up to press time, efforts to contact Ministry of Agriculture officials proved futile.