The proprietors of Innovative Farms Limited (GIF) are blaming the attitude of workers on the Grand Bras Farm for most of the problems plaguing the estate that was commercialised just over a year ago by government.
The Managers of GIF, John “Chalkie” Ventour and Liam “Owusu” James met with members of the local media last week Wednesday on the Kirani James Boulevard to clear the air following a charge by Minister of Agriculture, Roland Bhola that a six-month ultimatum was given to them to improve performance or face possible action.
The minister cited late salaries to workers, a decrease in productivity and reduction in staff as some of the problems on the farm.
James and Ventour – two of the prominent figures from the ill-fated 1979-83 Grenada Revolution who served lengthy prison sentences for the execution of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop at Fort George – took possession of the state farm in 2014 under a programme initiated by the Keith Mitchell-led government to privatise loss-making state enterprises.
James who is the Acting General Manager of the farm told reporters that the task of operating the farm came with many challenges including the experience of the staff.
He said that although the new owners were warned from the onset that “wholesale changes in staff” and in the standard operating procedure of the farm was needed a decision was taken not to adopt that route.
“We chose to do it the very difficult way, to retain some of the staff even though we know that there were very bad cultural practices being practiced by many workers on the staff,” he added.
The former military chief pointed out that several attempts were made to encourage the workers to change their attitude but it was not successful.
According to James, the wages of many of the workers were increased from around $49 a day, and several pieces of equipment and tools were brought onto the farm to help the workers.
“We brought in rain coats, gloves and other equipment to make work easier and more comfortable. We introduced quite a bit of tools, we introduced mug chops, which are motorized wheel barrows and other equipment which will make the operation much more efficient,” he said.
He spoke of seeing an improvement in the attitude of workers for a brief period with the arrival of the new equipment but it was still very difficult to get labourers who are used to working three hours a day to change and to work longer hours.
James also said that many of the workers on the estate failed to meet the standard that was set by management.
“Some failed our probation period, others we extended the probation period to them and even then we had to lay them off and even some of the workers who were retained we were forced because they proved to be very unproductive to lay them off,” James added.
He said another challenge is delays in paying forth nightly salary from time to time.
“We made every effort to meet our forth nightly wage bill; however, because of the performance problems that we are being faced with by the workers, we have had some constraints from time to time. A lot of workers are totally blind to the linkage between their activity and performance on a daily basis and their wage bill at the end of every fortnight,” he said.
James spoke of incidences where workers would not work the entire six hours, workers are caught stealing, and where workers give smug responses when questioned about their quality of work being put out.
Despite this he said the farm did make some strides in terms of revenues as from January 2015 to December 2015 the farm earned $151,000 in revenue as compared to $129,000 earned by government between 2006 and 2012.
However, he said operational cost were still difficult to meet because the farm was faced with a turnaround operation.
He said different approaches have already been taken by the farm to turn things around by August.
“We were compelled to lay off unproductive workers, we were forced to replace those workers with workers who were skilled and experience in farming and we have sought to organize those workers in teams with special responsibility.
“… We have done a six month production/revenue plan, with this we have set certain measurable targets and we are constantly checking our progress through these targets and that is currently being implemented. It involves a schedule of planting and a list of crops, like Sweet Potatoes, Watermelon, Cucumbers, Carrots and so on,” he said.
James said if the operation on the Grand Bras farm is not turned around using these methods then a review of the plan will have to be done.
However, he appeared to be confident that everything is on target and the owners are confident that they would meet their targets at the end of August.