Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Jaevion Nelson | Abuse of workers' rights at the workplace

Published:Thursday | December 22, 2016 | 12:00 AM

It's horrifying to think that some of the sectors/industries that successive governments have depended and prided themselves on to prove their ability to grow the economy are seemingly responsible for such rampant abuse of the rights of their workers. The hotel and tourism sector is among the places where employees are paid low wages, mistreated, have no insurance, no benefits, no or inconsistent payment for overtime, and no unionised representatives to advocate for their welfare.

It's rather shameful that our members of parliament (MPs), particularly from those areas that have been and continue to benefit tremendously from these investments, such as those in Westmoreland, St Ann, St James and Trelawny, are so deafeningly silent about these abuses and the indignity their constituents are often subjected to.

A couple days ago, my colleagues and I visited a property for some well-deserved downtime. While driving to the location, one of them asked, "How do the workers get here?" It was a really long drive from the main road and there were hardly any houses around. I responded doubtfully that they must be from the neighbouring communities above. There didn't seem to be any, but that is the most logical thing I could think of, or that there is a shuttle given that the distance/drive was about 15-20 minutes long. Upon leaving the sought-after establishment, we had to transport one of the employees and learnt that there actually is no shuttle service for the employees. 'Luckily' for them, they are able to hitch a ride with guests to leave work, and their co-workers who drive in the mornings. I am still trying to comprehend how anyone could be so unmindful about their workers who have the burdensome responsibility of keeping scores of guests happy/satisfied all day. It is highly unacceptable that a company expects its staff to walk for miles to and from work, where no public transportation exists.

 

PRESSING ISSUES

 

I'd hate to think that our legislators, our elected representatives who have sworn to 'conscientiously and impartially discharge [their] responsibilities to the people of Jamaica' are so unaware of these pressing issues.

Do MPs not speak to, and listen to, their constituents? Do they not ask them what are the things that bother them most? Or is it that there is very little time in the schedule at bars, funerals and during door-to-door visits when they are canvassing for votes, to accommodate a conversation about the abuses being meted out to their constituents, especially those who are poor and vulnerable?

Hotel and tourism are critical to our economy and there is, in my humble opinion, need for greater scrutiny and monitoring of their operations (not that this is the only place where this happens; the household workers uptown and the gatekeepers at these many gated complexes can write several books about their experiences). At the end of July 2016, hotels and restaurant services employed 96,300 people and is the fourth-largest employer. We can't be comforted in the fact that they provide jobs and carry on as if that is all that matters. Contrary to popular saying, a job which is paying barely anything and where the employer does not care about the safety, health and well-being of their employees is not better than nothing.

Our MPs MUST prioritise protecting the rights and welfare of employed people, particularly those in low-paying jobs.

Of course, many of us are somewhat complicit to these abuses since we unavoidably patronise these establishment. But we can remedy that. We shouldn't be silent, though. We should demand that MPs vigorously defend the rights of the people who worked tirelessly to get them elected. Remind them that they have, as my friend Marianna said, a responsibility and should therefore 'lead and get involved with [the] people.'

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.