Livern Barrett and Tyrone Reid, Staff Reporters
As anger boils in Jamaica over reports of colour prejudice in the job market, a livid labour and social security minister, Pearnel Charles, has likened the skin-tone discrimination to apartheid South Africa and has vowed to drag bigoted employers before the courts.
At the same time, Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller has chimed in, suggesting Jamaicans boycott businesses that appear to hire only light-skinned personnel.
In a flurry of activity online, several incensed Jamaicans called for a boycott of, and the publication of, the names of employers and entities that have asked the island's national training agency - HEART Trust/NTA - for brown or light-skinned trainees to fill vacancies at their companies.
At first, the labour minister was flabbergasted at the mere suggestion that Jamaican employers could be using skin tone as a criterion for employment. "No, sir. I don't believe it," said a baffled Charles before his bemusement turned to anger.
"If I meet one of those employers, I would personally see to that person being prosecuted," said the labour minister, himself a veteran trade unionist. He noted that such discrimination had no place in the 21st century.
"That can't happen under this Government ... not when I am minister," said Charles as the notion sank in.
He added: "If you can prove it to me, I'll throw the whole book at such an employer in this country."
Charles, who called the colour prejudice expressed by some employers racist, sought to assure the nation that the Ministry of Labour would move swiftly and decisively if it were to receive complaints from persons who were denied employment on the basis of their skin tone.
"Expect immediate action from me and the Government using every piece of machinery to eliminate it from this society," he said.
An attorney told The Gleaner that Charles could have a case as such discrimination is outlawed by the Jamaican Constitution and suggested that there might be supporting provisions in the country's labour laws.
No place for discrimination
Simpson Miller, in her angry reaction to the report, warned Sunday night that such prejudice against dark-skinned people would not be tolerated in Jamaica "ever again".
She said the practice, reported by officials at the HEART Trust/NTA, is a "prescription for what we do not want in a country like this" and urged the Government to launch its own investigations.
"We do not want divisions ... . We are all one," she told the public session of her South West St Andrew constituency conference at the Haile Selassie High School.
"When you come to tell me that you're going to bring back in Jamaica the days of the colonial masters when only people with fair skin and a certain type of hair can get jobs, I am calling on the Government to investigate those companies," she said.
Simpson Miller also urged consumers to be vigilant, warning that "any company we go to do business and we see only brown people, and we don't see a mixture of brown and black, then we are going to move our business".