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By Elesha George

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As port workers remain in limbo regarding what will happen with an anticipated bonus this Christmas and whether a number of them will be temporarily unemployed, Port Manager Darwin Telemaque has explained why the agency cannot afford to honour additional expenses this year.

“We are clearly unable to facilitate a bonus payout at this juncture. Twenty-twenty has been way too difficult a year financially, way too challenging, too many unforeseen circumstances, additional costs, huge amounts of revenue reduction due to reductions in tonnages, reduction in container volumes, reduction in TEU volumes, reduction in ship line call in Antigua – overall it has just been a very difficult year,” he said.

According to Telemaque, in November alone the port lost about $5 million due to a reduction of tonnage by 100,000. The overall loss, he said, is something he has not witnessed during his time at the helm of the agency.

“We’ve never seen a reduction like this in any of the years since I’ve been here; never happened. We’ve seen a reduction of over 2,000 containers being imported into Antigua this year versus last year, we’ve seen over 3,500 TEUs being reduced in 2020 versus 2019,” he added.

Workers’ collective agreements speak to increases based on productivity; however, Telemaque said by expecting these productivity-based increases, the representing unions are “ignoring reality” by pushing for increases that the port cannot afford.

He said the port is only challenged by the reductions but still has the willingness to develop its services, sharing that the authority has had to request moratoriums on its debts and statutory payments in order to meet salaries and wages this year.  

“It has not been because of our finances, it has been because we have been able to establish relationships with some of our lenders who at that period of time decided to be gracious to us.

“If we were forced to make the payments that we ought to make to the CUB, to the EXIM bank of China we would not have been able to maintain the environment that we know have,” he said.

According to Telemaque, since bonuses were reinstated in 2016, the port has always paid workers their bonuses which are negotiated each year by the respective unions.