Call for COVID cushion for craft sector
The Government has been urged to provide a lifeline to craft merchants facing eviction in markets across the island.
Tagging craft traders “the most vulnerable in tourism”, Opposition Spokesperson Janice Allen has called for equitable distribution of relief and opportunities for those who are among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Allen said most of the people affected are mainly women who are heads of households with the responsibility of sending their children to school.
In a press statement issued Wednesday, Allen said that approximately 2,500 craft traders have depleted their savings and are facing an uncertain future. Their fortunes have largely sunk with the downturn in the tourism industry.
Craft traders are being threatened by municipal officials and management companies because of overdue rent that has accumulated since the onset of the pandemic.
“The larger companies in the industry have been able to access grants to cushion the COVID-19 blow and the craft sector should be treated no different,” said Allen.
Her concerns were echoed by president of the Harbour Street Craft Market, Melody Haughton, who said the 254 shop operators in her market were in deep waters as a result of the pandemic. She is calling on the prime minister to intervene, arguing they were a vital part of the tourism industry.
She said the Harbour Street and Old Fort Craft Merchants were told last Thursday by the St James Municipal Council that they had to pay or face eviction. Despite a 50 per cent discount retroactive to July 2020, the traders say that the closure of the market for a year has seen them earning nothing.
“The majority of us are owing for the entire year of the pandemic because we are having real difficulties,” said Haughton.
Her counterpart in Negril at Ruthland Point, Salomie Morgan, though admittedly faring better, would also welcome intervention from the Government. The 44 shops in that market are owned by the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), and that organisation has been accommodating, she told The Gleaner.
The Ruthland Point president say the majority of the merchants have paid some of the monies owed, but it has been so difficult they welcome any assistance possible.
Allen noted that only the Negril Craft Market has been given reprieve, due, in part, to the advocacy of former Minister of Tourism Dr Wykeham McNeill, the erstwhile member of parliament for Westmoreland Western.
At Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios, craft president Devon Mitchell sang the praises of the UDC.
“We have no problems whatsoever. We are working simultaneously to work out all our issues. We have a group of unruly people who refuse to abide by the rules in the market, but we have the best landlord,” Mitchell told The Gleaner.
He acknowledged that while crafts people were facing financial difficulties, the UDC allowed them to operate on a rotational basis to stagger access to visitors.
Secretary of the Old Market in Ocho Rios, Novelette Clarke, said they have not been served an eviction notice but owed the St Ann Municipal Council.
Merchants in Port Antonio were among those facing removal.
Allen said that Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett continues to celebrate artisan villages being built in Falmouth and other places but lamented that many of them expected to occupy spaces as vendors might not survive to be able to take up the offer.
“One mother who I spoke with said that after hearing from the minister about the industry’s revival, she was hopeful that there was seemingly a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Unfortunately, her optimism was short-lived as she was advised that she is likely to be evicted as her rent remains unpaid,” said the opposition spokesperson.