In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC) has increased surveillance, and is ensuring health protocols are followed at Portvale Sugar Factory, as well as at its Warrens Head Office and other places.
This was disclosed by BAMC’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Orlanda Atherley, as he spoke with the media about the corporation’s response to COVID-19, during Saturday’s press conference at Wakefield Plantation in St. John.
Emphasising that the response was more heightened than last year’s, he noted that the BAMC had set up sanitisation stations; established a Health and Safety desk at the island’s lone sugar factory in St. James, in addition to having one at its Warrens Head Office, in St. Michael.
“We have brought in two compliance officers to make sure staff is maintaining social distancing. In addition to that, what we are doing at the factory is we are creating safety bubbles. For example, if you are working on the mill, you don’t go across to the pan floor or the boiler room. We maintain no comingling in any of these operations,” he said.
While acknowledging that Government was very supportive and understanding of the risks faced by their workers, Mr. Atherley revealed that over 100 workers had been vaccinated, to date.
He further stressed: “We have all the necessary steps in place and we are prepared. We did this last year and we know we are doing it in a little difficult circumstance, but we are prepared. We put the systems in place in relation to the haulers, the farmers, and people coming on to the property. We’re confident that if there is any challenge that we have, we could manage it. We are making sure that we are multi-tasked, so that if we have a person in a particular area that is sick, we can pull them out and continue with the crop as necessary.”
Meanwhile, speaking on this year’s negotiations with the unions, the CEO noted that these did not centre on wage increases, but on health issues with emphasis on keeping the employees safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Elaborating, he said: “So, it has been around making sure that at the farms we are providing the proper PPE; making sure the environment for the workers is safe and I think that has been more the conversation now this year as opposed to wages.”
While he pointed out that negotiations were still ongoing, Mr. Atherley stressed, however, that the unions had reached consensus on the start of the crop and the issues this year were not significant. Steam trials are scheduled to begin on Monday, March 1, and grinding by the end of that week. The 2021 harvest should be completed by the second week of June.