Editorial | Housing workers
The plan by Spanish-based Princess hotel chain to build 600 homes for its workers as it enters the Jamaican market is a welcome signal that the economic role of proper housing in a growing economy has been recognised by this investor.
Princess, founded in 1967, is set to open its 2,000-room property in Green Island, Westmoreland, in early 2024. Set on 180 acres, the property is being advertised as consisting of four separate resorts, 14 overwater villas and a casino.
The conversations around benefits for the island’s nearly 200,000 tourism workers including pensions, healthcare and housing, have been taking place for many years. As the argument goes, in the absence of robust union representation, workers get the least benefit from the industry they have worked so hard to build.
As the clamour for better treatment of these workers has grown, there have been efforts in recent years to get developers to set aside units for tourism workers. To this end, units have been made available in the Rhyne Park community, originally part of the Rose Hall lands, and at the Estuary in Friendship, St James. Still, there are those at the bottom of the rung who will not be able to afford any of these houses.
The line staff in hotels, villas and apartments are among the greatest assets of brand Jamaica. They are the ones who interface with visitors, always present with a smile and a willingness to please and make guests feel welcome in an industry which is highly competitive.
Alas, under the burden of stagnant wages and increase in the cost of living, when they leave these pristine properties many return to mere hovels with none of the niceties such as running water and other taken-for-granted conveniences.
It is not fair, says Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett, and we agree. “It is not fair to ask our tourism workers to be on the job at very posh hotels, villas and apartments and ensuring that guests have a great time by smiling for them, engaging in conversations about how great Jamaica is as a vacation destination, then at the end of the workday, have to be going home to inadequate housing where they have to struggle to make sure the rent is paid.”
“Jamaica’s biggest asset has always been its people. The tourist industry is blessed with an iconic bunch of workers and who have been doing yeoman service for this country. I don’t know what we would do without them,” said Bartlett.
Proper housing literally opens the door to improved health, better prospects for education and greater economic opportunity for families. And we cannot ignore the benefits of being part of a community.
The hotels, too, have much to gain, for the workers will be closer to their jobs which will cut down their commute time, and above all, happy workers are better for business than apathetic, disengaged individuals who are simply going through the motions.
Hopefully, arrangements between the tourism ministry, the National Housing Trust and private developers will result in even more attention being paid to the housing needs of tourism workers.
Affordable housing will become a high priority as more hotel rooms are built along the coast from St Ann to Negril. Perhaps it is time for government to offer incentives to developers who are willing to build durable, environmentally sensitive and easy-to-maintain, affordable housing units.
The positive impact of affordable housing on all aspects of people’s lives, including educational opportunity for their children, cannot be overstated.
Despite raking in millions of dollars, it seems that a culture of caring is lacking in the hospitality industry. We suggest that investors give fuller recognition to the role that social benefits play in economic development.