Give more Jamaicans a chance in hotel industry
THE EDITOR, Madam:
The Jamaican tourism industry has taken a huge hit from the current COVID-19 pandemic like many other countries across the world. The Jamaican tourism industry has always been valiant, preserving the authenticity of the local hospitality market, improving on room count and quality, and most important, ensuring that the market has enough options to entice travellers from across the globe.
With the many investments in the industry, the human-capital component has remained consistent in ensuring a guest return rate for the destination at about 42 per cent. This level of return rate is not attributable to beautiful rooms and beaches only, but to the authentic Jamaican experience offered by the many amazing hotel workers in the industry.
It is with this in mind that I raise the grave concern of the consistent increase in the number of expatriates penetrating middle- and upper-level management positions within the industry. Even in the time of COVID-19, it is incredulous to perceive that a government with a focus on prosperity for its people would continue to issue work permits to individuals from overseas when the market in Jamaica is saturated with qualified unemployed Jamaicans.
There seems to be a huge disconnect in the realities on the ground versus the public relations exercise being pushed by the Ministry of Tourism and the JHTA.
The hoteliers have an association that protects their interests, however, who speaks on behalf of the Jamaican staff? Who protects their well-being? Most hotels in Jamaica do not have a union, thus, some hotels act with scant regard for the workers’ rights.
The Government of Jamaica must act quickly and decidedly to ensure that Jamaicans get first preference in employment within the industry and not just entry-level positions that are, of course, predominantly occupied by Jamaicans.
There should be particular focus on middle-management and upper-management positions that are predominantly occupied by expatriates, especially among some international hotel groups. Let it not be misconstrued that I am calling for expatriates to not be allowed to work in the industry. Absolutely not! However, there has to be some form of structured management of the granting of these permits.
Additionally, there must be a national bank where qualified Jamaicans enter their credentials, and this could be a template that the ministry can use to guide its decisions. I am well aware of the fact that we are living in a world without borders, where the fluidity of labour is encouraged, however, the countries that benefit most from this labour integration have very robust checks and balances to protect their nationals.
The human-capital capacity of Jamaica is world-renowned for being exceptional. Let us not drive away our qualified tourism, hotel, and hospitality workers, who are now unemployed while they see clear vacancies being filled by expatriates.