Fishing access fee…says Govt agency “rubbing salt” in woundsThe National Industrial and Commercial Investments (NICIL) on Thursday received a letter on behalf of dismissed sugar workers asking the Government entity for an intervention regarding its sub-agency, the Special Purposes Unit (SPU) that has imposed fees for accessing fishing lands. This comes one day after Guyana Times published an article highlighting the plight of the ex-sugar workers who have been seeking to traverse the Skeldon Estate to fish and earn a livelihood.On Thursday, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU)NICIL’s Special Purpose Unit Head Colvin Heath-Londonslammed the SPU for the act, stating that such a fee brought additional burden on the already displaced workers. The Union added that the fee was tantamount to “rubbing salt on a deep wound” of the dismissed sugar workers.“GAWU is concerned that at a time when monies are already hard to come by, the fee being asked will bring to bear even more pressure. From the article, several persons who were interviewed confirmed the challenges they are facing since the estate closed its gates over a year ago,” the Union body explained.The Union has written to NICIL to express its concern and ask that consideration be given to a waiver of the fee in view of the circumstances that plague the sugar belt.“We hope that our request would be favourably considered to bring at least a little reprieve to the suffering that have become a sad characteristic of life in the villages that are linked to the now-closed sugar estates,” it further observed.This publication reported on Thursday that the redundant workers of the Skeldon Sugar Estate were being charged a fee of $500 to pass through a cultivation dam to catch fish reportedly by the SPU – which, according to workers, is issuing a one-month pass for $15,000. The SPU was set up by Government to oversee theFormer sugar workers are fishing in the savannahs for survivalprivatisation of estates.When contacted on the matter, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder said that it would be unethical to comment on a NICIL/SPU matter. On these grounds, he declined to speak on the fee imposition. This newspaper later tried to gather insight from SPU Head Colvin Heath-London on Thursday evening, but calls to his mobile phone went to voicemail.The affected workers who were made redundant when the estate closed are now facing major difficulties as they seek to gain new employment. Some of them catch fish and reap wild carilla (bitter gourd) from the savannahs, which are located behind the cultivation area, but are only accessible through the Skeldon Sugar Estate’s dams.As Guyana Times reported, many have turned to fishing to make a living while others catch fish in the savannahs to provide a meal for their families. Manam Singh, a former cane harvester and father of four, who worked with the estate for 22 years, told this publication on Wednesday that sometimes he buys the SPU pass and catches nothing. On Wednesday, he left home at 03:00h and at 10:00h returned home empty-handed.Initially, the ex-workers were not required to pay a fee to pass through the cultivation area, but then a fee of $100 was charged which was subsequently raised to $500 for one-time entry.“Right now you getting nothing and to find $500, it is very hard now. You have to get gas money and you not catching $500 fish. It is very hard,” Sibnauth Ramnarine had noted.Edwin Persaud, a pensioner, who said he has a sick wife, fishes for domestic purposes while Dhanraj Chatterpaul, who worked as a Pallman with the Skeldon Estate, said Wednesday that being asked to pay $500 per trip has created financial pressure on himself and family. This newspaper was also shown several receipts by the former workers indicating that they have paid the fee as demanded by SPU.A circular from the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) dated September 13, 2017 indicated that a fee of $100 per day was going to be imposed with immediate effect.