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Wage too low, work too hard - Children’s home staff bemoan tough conditions

Published:Sunday | March 27, 2016 | 3:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Leroy Anderson, director of the Jamaica National Children’'sHome
Outside view of the Jamaica National Children’s Home.
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The Methodist Church in Jamaica is downplaying claims that some staff members at the Jamaica National Children's Home (JNCH), which it operates, are being overworked and underpaid.

According to head of the Jamaica Methodist District, the Reverend Everald Galbraith, he has not received any complaints, but he knows that attempts have always been made to ensure that none of the workers are underpaid.

"I am not aware and I have never had any complaint. For the past six years that I have been head, I have never received any complaints where that is concerned, so I find this very strange," Galbraith told The Sunday Gleaner.

Galbraith was responding to claims by some employees that they are employed in a system that could be equated to "slavery".

One caregiver who is reportedly paid $2,500 for a 48-hour workweek said that the employees at the institution are often abused by the children in their care, and have to work 24-hour shifts at the residential-care facility.

The national minimum wage was recently increased from $5,600 for a 40-hour workweek to $6,200 and from $8,198 to $8,854 for industrial security guards.

"You are supervising and you are also a caregiver [and] you are also a nurturer," the employee told The Sunday Gleaner.

Added to this, "You have to make sure the unit is tidy, wash clothes, especially for the younger ones. If they are sick, you have to write reports, you have to keep a logbook report. If they need medication, you have to make it and dispense it. You have to cook on weekends, breakfast, lunch and dinner," said the caregiver who explained that they also have to travel with some of the children to school on a daily basis.

While the salary for permanent and relief staff varies, the employee said a check with several other caregivers indicate that both category of workers are paid between $1,225 and $1,250 for a 24-hour shift.

According to the employees, they have been told that the 24-hour work shift is mandatory because they have to be there at nights to see to the care of the children.

"When you look at the functions and descriptions (of the job), it is beyond slavery. If I didn't have savings, trust me, I wouldn't know what I would do," said the caregiver.

 

GOV'T SUBSIDISED

 

The JNCH was established in 1972 and is privately owned, but government subsidised. According to the organisation's website, the care facility which is located at Carberry Court, Mona, houses more than 80 children between the ages of seven and 20 years old.

Most of these children have severe mental and/or physical disabilities, or have been physically and/or sexually abused or abandoned.

Another employee who spoke to The Sunday Gleaner said she takes home less than $24,000 per month. The employee, who is not a caregiver, said she has often heard the caregivers complain, but they continue to work at the facility because they are afraid they might not be able to find another job.

"They are overworked and underpaid," she said before adding, "If they (children) take sick and need to go to the hospital, they (caregivers) have to lift them up, and I don't think that is right, they are bawling for their backs daily," she said.

The employee who had been seriously injured by one of the children in the past said that the workers are often physically abused by their young charges.

"A lady, recently, one of them use mop stick lick her, and her shoulder slip out, and I don't know, because she say she a Methodist she is not doing anything. She is not here. I heard that she gone a foreign," the employee said.

The employee said she is living from hand to mouth daily, but she fears she has very little options at her disposal.

"Mi just a hang on in there, because me a get old and job hard to get," she said.

"Is only God himself a carry me through, because right now, is only $100 alone I have to carry me home. I have to keep on a borrow and a pay back, and a borrow and a pay back," she said.

She said she has gone to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to lodge a complaint, but she has not been able to follow through on the advice she received on that visit.

 

NO UNITY

 

"You see, the thing is that they don't unite inside here, because I went to Ministry of Labour and they said I must get three more persons, and I can't go to them because they are going to go back to management," she said.

Director of the JNCH, Leroy Anderson, has so far refused to respond directly to the claims of the employees. He told our news team that he needs time to investigate the allegations and consult with members of the board for the facility.

When contacted, executive director for the Child Development Agency, Rosalee Gage-Grey, said she has not received any complaints from staff at the facility.

According to Gage-Grey, because it is a private facility, it is the owners that determine the salary for staff.

But she noted that administrators of private facilities are expected to abide by the laws as it relates to the payment of salaries.

Gage-Grey said the Government gives a subvention of $6,000 per week per child to help defray some of the expenses incurred by the operators of these private facilities.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com