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Top-class resort or modern-day plantation?

Published:Sunday | June 22, 2014 | 12:00 AM

K. Harris, Contributor

Tourism is one of the largest industries in Jamaica. It gives people from all corners of the earth the opportunity to experience our vibrant culture and this beautiful country called Jamaica. But forgive me if I’m wrong, I don’t think this should be at the expense and exploitation of our best resource, the people.

I have worked at two hotels, as well as other industries, which is why I can conclude that working in the hotel industry is a completely different experience from other businesses. Today, I will be taking you on a journey into the life of an employee of one of Jamaica’s top resorts. 

Your typical day starts at 9 a.m. You are asked to enter through the back (staff gate) and park approximately 200 feet from the hotel, as the parking lot is for paying customers and managers. You walk the rest of the way to the security booth where you clock in. You walk through the garbage disposal area and then a tunnel where some of the offices are located; it reeks of garbage and very unpleasant bathroom smells.

When you finally open that door which has a sign on the opposite side that reads 'staff only', the air and smell are dramatically different; you enter the lobby area with beautiful furniture, immaculately kept floors and walls, smiling faces and, of course, the guests, who are oblivious to what is beyond those doors.

Work begins. In any department, the workload is extremely heavy. The company makes sure that every inch of your time is consumed by your daily tasks. You get a half-hour lunch break - and 15-minute breaks at the discretion of your manager, for which you are not paid. You only get paid for six hours and 40 minutes.

 As a line staff member, you can dine at the staff cafeteria. Now this is night and day when compared to the five-star restaurants on property. The food is edible sometimes and another time it’s just insipid. However, most disturbing is the atmosphere; it is not pleasing to the senses at all. It is cold, damp, and a foul odor sometimes burns your nostrils.
Let’s say you miss your lunch period. Well, in Jamaica, we say 'dog nyam yu suppa'. It is not a common practice, but under special circumstances,  some staff members can get permission from the food and beverage manager to eat at the grill. When I think of this person, I am reminded of a character in the movie 'Django Unchained', where Samuel L. Jackson plays the head of the house slaves and makes sure that the slaves don’t take anything from the master. Oftentimes you will see this person just sitting and watching the food and beverages to make sure no staff member is eating or drinking any of it. Hmmm, I wonder where the surplus goes. Even the water outside of the canteen area is off limits. If you are caught consuming unauthorised items, penalties can range from a memorandum to dismissal.

Now in any industry, I’m sure the customer comes first. However, they take it to another level. You are constantly reminded that the guest should make no complaints, as this may end up on tripadvisor.com. This is a website where guests can visit and leave comments about their vacation at any destination in the world. This site is checked daily.

When a guest does leave a comment about the hotel, an email is sent out with their comments. The email will have loads of positive reviews about the service, food, etc., but once there is a negative comment, the general manager or the hotel manager will make mention of the negatives and take the necessary steps in disciplining whoever is found responsible.
Your uniform is issued by the hotel and it has strict policies against alteration. Only its own seamstress can do so by her standard specifications, which result in it looking oversized and unflattering.

Well, you started at 9 a.m., so at 5 p.m. you should be ready to go home, right? Are you crazy? This is almost unheard of, as 90 per cent of the time you work overtime by one to six hours at a time, all of which you are not paid for. If you receive incentives for sales, you are told that this covers the extra hours you put in.

Now I went to some very good schools, but even with a primary level education, this, I’m sure, sounds ridiculous. I’m not sure what the workers who don’t get incentives are told, but I would imagine it’s some other travesty.
So your dreadful day ends and you clock out. Make sure if someone is picking you up, they don’t drive at the front gate, as this is a privilege you have not earned. I describe the feeling of leaving as if you are finally off the plantation.
These are just a few examples of what a typical staff member tolerates to feed his or her family. I could report on many other examples of the unfair ways in which you are treated.

I am in no way condemning the hotel industry; it serves a major purpose in the Jamaican economy, giving people who do not have fancy degrees, such as me, a chance to be employed and get experience in some critical areas of the workforce.
I hope this article will spark some discussion on this topic, and maybe, just maybe, our hotels will take their staff into consideration when implementing policies and make some adjustments to their current rules and regulations.

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