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Former contract workers who maintained and cleaned Palmiste Park in San Fernando for more than a decade protest at the park yesterday after they claimed their services were abruptly terminated. In background new workers hired for the the maintance of the park.

Sascha Wilson

Former contract workers, who maintained and cleaned Palmiste Park, in San Fernando, for more than a decade held a protest yesterday after they claimed their services were abruptly terminated.

The workers were employed with various contractors under the National Reforestation Watershed and Rehabilitation Programme, but since March they had no work.

They were, however, under the impression that this was due to the COVID-19 restrictions even though they became aware that the contractor´s services were terminated.

Mala Balkaran who worked at the park for 12 years said, “We stand on the minister word that we coming back here to work when the other contractor take over because that is what they do in the past years when contractors come to take over they keep their workers.”

She said no one called them back out to work but they visited the park on Monday after learning that it was being cleaned by other workers.

Noting that 65 workers were now unemployed, she lamented,”I find that is unfair to the workers who work the past 15 years here and take care of this park and we never had a complaint. As he said we cut bush we plant trees we do everything we suppose to do.”

Balkaran said they never applied for any of the social relief grants because during a COVID-19 daily press conference it was stated that forestry workers, CEPEP and URP workers would be paid.

Complaining that most of them were single parents, Moonan Bipta who worked there for 15 years, said they went to Forestry Division in San Fernando but was told that the department was moved to Brechin Castle.

Requesting a meeting with Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat, the workers said if they get any response they will seek legal action or take their protest to Brechin Castle.

They were supported by Palmiste councillor Roland Halls, who said over his 11 years in office, he has observed the impressive and diligent work done by the workers.

When Guardian contacted Rambharat he said the workers were employed with contractors and not the ministry. He explained that the reforestation programme has since been transferred from his ministry to the Rural Development Company (RDC) which is under the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government.

RDC´s chairman Patricia Alexis told Guardian Media that the reforestation programme was officially transferred to the RDC via cabinet note on April 6. “It is RDC’s understanding that all contractors whilst under the control of the Ministry of Agriculture, were notified of the termination of their services.”

She added that evaluation of the expressions of interest by interested groups were conducted and the newly selected contractors commenced work on June 15.