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Displaced VFort Stevedores Seeking Compensation

By: Kingsley Emmanuel

THE move to relocate the loading of bananas from Port Vieux Fort back to the Castries seaport has left some Vieux Fort stevedores on the breadline and wondering whether they will be compensated.

They have contacted both the Labour Department and Winfresh Ltd. to find out whether they are entitled to compensation, but have not been able to get a firm response.

And who were their employers seems to be another issue.

According to Alphonse Maronie, the manager of Tri Star Services, one of the two companies which were contracted to load bananas at Port Vieux Fort, the stevedores were employed by Winfresh Ltd.

But the manager of Winfresh, Cuthbert Joseph told THE VOICE that the companies were not employed by Winfresh, and as a result Winfresh is not responsible for compensating the workers.

The loading of bananas in Castries on the Geest Line vessels for export came into effect on August 29.

According to a press release from Winfresh Ltd. this came as a result of a business decision by Geest Line to undertake one, instead of two port calls to the island.

“The shipping line has cited operational as well as economic reasons for the decision, partly as a result of the declining cargo volume in and out of Port Vieux Fort,” the release stated in part.

Over the years, a number of banana farmers in the south of the island have left farming and gone into other fields, such as construction.

The loading of bananas at the Castries seaport was awarded to a company in the north.

“We are very concerned about our compensation after working for 14 years….We deserve some form of compensation,” Maronie told THE VOICE.

When the stevedores were informed of the move to relocate the loading of bananas to Castries a few months ago, they made it clear that if they were to continue offering their services, they would need an increase in their pay rates for the inconvenience they would have had to endure travelling to Castries.

One stevedore said: “The south is dead…It is very difficult for us to get another job here right now.”

Commenting on the matter, businessman and former Member of Parliament Eldridge Stephens, who is in the process of forming a company to provide stevedoring services in the south said he understood the concerns of both parties.

He, however, added that because of economic reasons Geest was forced to take such action and that he did not expect to see any changes in the situation in the near future.

Stephens said currently the government was trying to cushion the impact of job losses on the Vieux Fort docks by looking for new shipping lines in Miami to service the island.

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