Sun | Aug 9, 2020

Trelawny captains facing challenges ahead of rafting resumption

Published:Tuesday | July 7, 2020 | 12:16 AMLeon Jackson/Gleaner Writer

Western Bureau:

It would appear that the COVID-19 pandemic has not only taken away the livelihood of the over 80 rafts captains who operate at the Martha Brae River in Trelawny, but during their layoff, some rafts have either been washed away or damaged.

As a consequence, the raftsmen are worried that they may not be ready to restart business on July 22, when rafting is set to resume at the various rafting locations across the island.

“We have had a meeting with River Rafting, the company which operates the attraction. In the meeting, we requested a grant of $14,000 each to build back a raft for each of the 80 of us, some of whom have been with the company since rafting started in 1970,” a veteran raftsman told The Gleaner.

Florence Campbell, the administrative assistant at River Rafting, acknowledged the meeting and the request, but said the request for $14,000 was too much.

“They made a request of us and we made a counter-offer of $10,000 to each raftsman. In addition, we will pay for the transporting of the bamboo from wherever they are getting them. Not only that, but we will also foot the bill for the recovery of any raft which may have been washed away during the lockdown,” said Campbell.

Counter-offer refused

According to Campbell, the counter-offer they gave was not accepted during the meeting, but she is hopeful that an amicable arrangement will be reached in another meeting that is planned.

“Another meeting is scheduled for Monday. We hope that an amicable decision can be achieved. The attraction does not exist without raftsmen. It is in the interest of all of us to work together for rafting to resume,” said Campbell.

Rafting on the Martha Brae is a three-mile journey along the winding river, which at one time transported sugar to the harbour at Rock, near Falmouth. This was before Falmouth replaced Martha Brae as the capital of Trelawny in 1770.

The raftsmen, who did not benefit from the Government’s CARE programme, say they will be agitating for changes to their employment going forward.

“We are regarded as self-employed. No taxes are paid, neither for us nor by us … we have to pay national insurance and National Housing Trust for ourselves. This has to change so that whatever benefits are to be had, we can get it,” a raftsman with 33 years of experience told The Gleaner.