Daviot Kelly, Staff Reporter
Businesses insecure with closure of bauxite plant
Ewarton, St Catherine, business operators are fearing the worst after news broke this week that the bauxite plant in their community will be closed for at least a year by its Russian owner, UC Rusal.
"It a go drop wi dung again," said Raymond Johns, co-owner of Mango Tree Pub. "It a go affect business, worse how light gone up. It a go mash wi up."
Mining Minister Phillip Paulwell told Parliament of UC Rusal's decision on Tuesday. The company said tough world market conditions were the chief reason for the closure, but Paulwell is not convinced.
"I do not believe the company has applied all the efficiency standards that they had committed to do in the first place," he told Parliament.
The minister has vowed to review the lease and the people are hoping for good news.
"I hope Paulwell can do something," said Johns. "Mi nah go round it, the factory help wi out good."
Odette Francis, who runs the cookshop adjoining the pub, said they should have seen the signs.
"We shoulda know sumting did wrong enuh, from mi nuh si dem give out nuh school voucher or anything like that, wi shoulda realise."
Francis and Johns noted that workers account for most lunches cooked at their establishments daily.
"Dem wi pay yuh like every fortnight or so. You know you can depend on them. But without them, maybe you only sell five or 10 lunch a day," Johns said.
"Di taxi man dem start bawl already from dem hear (Tuesday night)," added Francis.
Dwayne Wilson, a taxi operator who plies the Ewarton to Linstead route, agreed the closure would affect his income.
"When di plant a run, yuh know sey in di peak hours yuh can expec' a two or three load of passengers from the plant," he said. "Even though you have nuff taxi on di road, you can still eat a food. So yuh mus' understand how much people dat."
Wilson said he was made redundant the last time the factory closed in 2009, which led him to driving taxis. Many of his passengers are former co-workers.
"To tell the truth, I think I end up betta than them. See it out fi close again. Plus, what I can earn in a day work out betta depending on how hard mi work."
Residents say many of the workers are from other parishes like Manchester and St James, so their families would also be affected. They said there aren't many employment options outside of the factory.
"Dem might can look licence and run taxi, but everybody can't do that. Some man might take up farming, but farming expensive now. Feed gone up," said Johns.
But it's the food establishments they expect will be hardest hit. Paulette, or Miss P, had to let go of her two assistants because, even before the Tuesday's revelation, there had been layoffs.
"Mi have to cut back. Just two chicken can last you whole day. Before, even 100 pounds a chicken I would sell in one day."
At noon, she only had two customers.
"Usually, by now di place would be full, people asking for service. Sometimes mi feel like mi waan give up," she moaned, estimating that factory workers made up 95 per cent of her customers. Mikey, who runs a jerk shop, said he has only been in business for four months and already is faced with many decisions.
"The news is a shock to mi because mi neva expect them to close down so soon again. I have to watch it and see what is going on," he said. He said he also has had to cut back on the amount of meat he jerks since the layoffs.
Even Seymour, a car-wash operator, said the closure would be a big loss for his business. He noted that because of the dust, the workers carry in their cars regularly.
"Closing now, when the economy is stagnant? That rough. A man not going to give you his car to wash because he has to focus that money on other things," he reasoned. He said he has two employees but fears if things are really bad, he may have to let them go.
With the decrease in livelihood, some residents fear there will be an increase in criminal activity, a trend they say played out the last time the factory closed.
"If it (closure) happen, a problem. Up here used to run red," said Johns. "Crime come down since the factory reopened."
Miss P was certain there would be bloodshed.
"You a go start walk over dead body up here," she said gloomily. "People a go start kill people because when dem can't get no food fi eat, dem a go get mad."