Big Tingz A Gwaan Pon NewsTalk93FM

images-2

Frederic Cassidy

Two spelling systems are used for the Jamaican language below. The first, which I call ‘chaka-chaka’, is based on English spelling. The second, ‘prapa-prapa’, is the specialist phonetic system designed by the Jamaican linguist Frederic Cassidy. It has been updated by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona. After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.

CHAKA-CHAKA SPELLING
UWI radio station a broadcast news big an broad inna ‘patwa’! Mi rather call fi wi language ‘Jamaican’. Same like how di English people dem talk English, a same so wi talk Jamaican. Mind yu, wi talk English, too. Dem force it on pon wi. An wi tek it fix-fix it up fi suit wi.

Dem old-time African weh di English people dem tek weh an bring ya, dem mix up di English language wid fi dem owna African language dem. An a so dem mek up one next language: Jamaican. An dem pass it down from generation to generation. It a wi heart language. A it wi talk wen trouble tek wi. An wen sinting sweet wi.

HEARD-EVERYWHERE-550x250A disya month NewsTalk93FM start broadcast news inna Jamaican. Monday to Friday inna di afternoon, 12:15 an 5:20. It a gwaan good-good. Nuff smaddy a listen an dem love it kyaahn done. An a no joke sinting. A real-real news. Serious ting.

A di Jamaican Language Unit a UWI response fi di news inna Jamaican. Professor Hubert Devonish a di head a di unit. Im study language an im write book bout it. A some a im student dem a work pon di news: Honica Brown, Peterkim Pusey, Tyane Robinson an Rexandrew Wright.

One a di big problem dem have fi write news inna Jamaican a fi find di rightful word fi di English. Tek for instance, ‘flexitime’. How yu a go seh dat inna Jamaican? ‘Work fi suit di boss?’ Same like how English capture nuff word from Latin an Greek, dem can dis tek over di word dem from English!

DI WAT LEF

Mi tink it plenty better fi try find sinting inna Jamaican fi carry over weh yu waan fi seh from English. Long time now, mi did change over one a di Budget speech from English to Jamaican. Mi seh six out a 10 dollar a fi pay back money weh govament owe. An education get di biggest cut a di ‘wat lef’.

images-1Wen mi go a JIS fi record di programme, dem never like ‘wat lef’. Dem seh mi nah gi di news straight. A talk mi a talk mi mind. Mi a call down judgement pon govament. Dem rather mi seh ‘balance’. But ‘wat lef’ an ‘balance’ boil down same way. Nutten much no lef fi run di country!

Di Jamaican Language Unit have one next programme pon NewsTalk93FM: ‘Big Tingz A Gwaan’. An dem aks Tyane Robinson an mi fi run di show. Inna Jamaican. Wi talk wi mind bout news. An wi bring on guest. Wi do three programme already. It come on Thursday afternoon, 4:30.

Mek mi gi oonu lickle joke. Some a di uptown guest dem can’t chat Jamaican pon radio! A dem yard language. It kyaahn broadcast. Wat a sinting! Marcus Garvey done tell wi: A wi ha fi free wiself from mental slavery. Nobody kyaahn dweet fi wi. Wi head an wi heart ha fi start talk di said same language.

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

UWI riedyo stieshan a braadkyaas nyuuz big an braad iina ‘patwa’! Mi raada kaal fi wi langwij ‘Jamiekan’. Siem laik ou di Inglish piipl dem taak Inglish, a siem so wi taak Jamiekan. Main yu, wi taak Inglish tu. Dem fuors it aan pan wi. An wi tek it fiks-fiks it op fi suut wi.

Unknown-1Dem uol-taim Afrikan we di Inglish piipl dem tek we an bring ya, dem miks op di Inglish langwij wid fi dem uona Afrikan langwij dem. An a so dem mek op wan neks langwij: Jamiekan. An dem paas it dong fram jinarieshan tu jinarieshan. It a wi aat langwij. A it wi taak wen chrobl tek wi. An wen sinting swiit wi.

A disya mont NyuuzTaak93FM staat braadkyaas nyuuz iina Jamiekan. Monde tu Fraide iina di aaftanuun, 12:15 an 5:20. It a gwaan gud-gud. Nof smadi a lisn an dem lov it kyaahn don. An a no juok sinting. A riil-riil nyuuz. Siiryos ting.

A di Jamiekan Langwij Yuunit a UWI rispans fi di nyuuz iina Jamiekan. Profesa Hubert Devonish a di Ed a di Yuunit. Im stodi langwij an im rait buk bout it. A som a im stuuydent dem a wok pan di nyuuz: Honica Brown, Peterkim Pusey, Tyane Robinson an Rexandrew Wright.

Wan a di big prablem dem av fi rait nyuuz iina Jamiekan a fi fain di raitful wod fi di Inglish. Tek far instans, ‘flexitime’. Ou yu a go se dat iina Jamiekan? ‘Wok fi suut di baas?’ Siem laik ou Inglish kyapcha nof wod fram Latin an Griik, dem kyan dis tek uova di wod dem fram Inglish!

DI WAT LEF

Mi tink it plenti beta fi chrai fain sinting ina Jamiekan fi kyari uova we yu waan fi se fram Inglish. Lang taim nou, mi did chienj uova wan a di Bojit Spiich fram Inglish tu Jamiekan. Mi se siks out a ten dala a fi pie bak moni we govament uo. An edikieshan get di bigis kot a di ‘wat lef’.

Wen mi go a JIS fi rikaad di pruogram, dem neva laik ‘wat lef’. Dem se mi naa gi di nyuuz striet. A taak mi a taak mi main. Mi a kaal dong jojment pan govament. Dem raada mi se ‘balance’. Bot ‘wat lef’ an ‘balance’ bwail dong siem wie. Notn moch no lef fi ron di konchri!

Di Jamiekan Langgwij Yuunit av wan neks pruogram pan NyuuzTaak93FM: ‘Big Tingz A Gwaan’. An dem aks Tyane Robinson an mi fi ron di shuo. Iina Jamiekan. Wi taak wi main bout nyuuz. An wi bring aan ges. Wi du chrii pruogram aredi. It kom aan Torsde aaftanuun, 4:30.

Mek mi gi unu likl juok. Som a di optoun ges dem kyaahn chat Jamiekan pan riedyo! A dem yaad langwij. It kyaahn braadkyaas. Wat a sinting! Marcus Garvey don tel wi: A wi ha fi frii wiself fram mental slievri. Nobadi kyaahn dwiit fi wi. Wi ed an wi aat a fi staat taak di sed siem langwij.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION
The UWI radio station is boldly broadcasting news in ‘patwa’! I prefer ‘Jamaican’ as the name of our language. Just as the English speak English, we speak Jamaican. Mind you, we speak English, too. They forced it down our throat. An we took it and adapted it to suit our tongue.

Our African ancestors, who were taken away by the English and  brought here,  cut and mixed the English language with their own African languages. And that’s how they created a brand new language: Jamaican. And they passed it down from generation to generation. It’s our heart language. That’s what we use when we’re in trouble.  And when we’re happy.

NewsTalk93FM started broadcast news in Jamaican this month. Monday to Friday in the afternoon at 12:15 and 5:20. It’s a huge success.  Lots of people are listening and they’re really enjoying it.  And it’s not a joke. It’s proper news. For real.

images-3It’s the Jamaican Language Unit at UWI that responsible for producing the news in Jamaican. Professor Hubert Devonish is the head of the unit. He’s a linguist who had written books on the subject.  It’s some of his students who are work on the news programme: Honica Brown, Peterkim Pusey, Tyane Robinson and Rexandrew Wright.

One the big problems they have with writing news in Jamaican is finding the exact translation for the English words. For instance, ‘flexitime’. What’s the Jamaican equivalent? ‘Work fi suit di boss?’ I suppose the translators could simply take over English words in exactly the same way that the English language captured lots of words from Latin an Greek!

DI WAT LEF

I think it’s much better to try to find a Jamaican equivalent for the English expression. Quite some time ago, I translated one of the Budget speeches from English to Jamaican. I said that 60% of the budget is for debt repayment.  And education gets the highest percentage of the ‘wat lef’.

When I went to JIS to record di programme, they didn’t like ‘wat lef’. They said I was editorialising. I was giving my own opinion.  And I was passing judgement on the Government. They preferred me to say ‘balance’. But ‘wat lef’ and ‘balance’ boil down to the same thing. Nothing much is left to run the country!

53-Ways-to-Market-Your-Google-Plus-Hangout-on-AirThe Jamaican Language Unit has another programme on NewsTalk93FM: ‘Big Tingz A Gwaan’. And they asked Tyane Robinson and me to host the show. In Jamaican. We speak our mind about the news. And we have guests on the show. We’ve done three programmes already. It comes on Thursday afternoon at 4:30.

Let me give you a little joke. Some of the uptown guests can’t speak in Jamaican on radio!  It’s their yard language. It can’t go out on air. What a thing! Marcus Garvey has warned us:  We have to free ourselves from mental slavery. Nobody can do it for us.  Our head and our heart must start talking the same language.

Putting Vaginas (And Penises) In Focus

UnknownNewspaper headlines are designed to grab your attention, if not your crotch. So I completely understand why the sensational ‘vagina’ – and not the more neutral ‘body’ – was used by the In Focus editor to brand Ms Karen Lloyd’s provocative column, ‘My vagina isn’t public property’ (Sunday Gleaner, August 3, 2014). Sex sells. Titillation, too.

I had a feeling that the hotty-hotty vaginal headline was going to backfire. It struck me that if your vagina really isn’t public property, perhaps, you wouldn’t want to expose it in print. Of course, that’s not the same as uncovering it in the flesh. All the same, as hard-core pornographers know, the thought of sex can be just as exciting as the real thing. Sometimes, even more so with the right visual stimulation.

Once I got past the seductive headline, I realised it was a case of bait and switch. The primary focus of Ms Lloyd’s perceptive column wasn’t her vagina after all. It was the persistent problem of verbal and physical abuse of girls and women in Jamaica. Across the board: uptown and downtown; black, white and brown; every single ethnic group. All our talk of independence, both national and personal, means absolutely nothing if we can’t cure this widespread sickness.

MALE BACKLASH

images-1Mr Bertlan Reynolds’ letter to the editor, published on Independence Day, is a classic example of abusive male backlash against women who dare to speak uncomfortable truths. The headline, ‘Vaginas public property on ‘Back Road’,’ maliciously challenges Ms Lloyd’s perfectly reasonable claims about a vagina’s right to privacy.

Mr Reynolds, who seems to be thinking with the head of his penis, completely misses the point. Unlike Ms Lloyd, the women on ‘Back Road’ are selling sex. Even so, the vagina of a female sex worker is not public property. It may be turned into a commodity and graphically put on display, as described in such detail by Mr Reynolds:

“Not too long ago, an event was taking place on this renowned road popularly called ‘Back Road’ that caused vehicular traffic to come to a virtual stop. A group of women presented themselves in an almost nude state banging on the cars of male drivers, gyrating and virtually ‘swiping’ the cars, including mine, with their private parts. This was certainly not a clever way to marketise their dismal future.”

FRONT-ROOM SEX WORKERS

Cleverly marketed or not, the vagina of a female sex worker is a private body part. And its owner has the right to determine its use and value. She is entitled to pick and choose her clients even in desperate economic circumstances. Sex workers have rights. They have the fundamental right to be protected from sexual abuse. And selling sex does not mean you give up all claims to be treated with dignity.

Dignity1Self-righteous, judgemental souls like Mr Reynolds don’t seem to understand this basic principle. And they certainly don’t grasp the economics of survival in Jamaica today. You cannot assume that sex workers willingly choose the world’s oldest profession. It’s usually a last resort, especially in societies like ours where poor women do face a dismal future.

And Mr Reynolds ought to know that sex workers come in all grades and stations: from ‘Back Road’ to front rooms in upscale, gated communities. Class covers a multitude of sins. The way some uptown ladies gyrate in public for carnival, they might as well be swiping their private parts on ‘Back Road’!

A SLAP FOR A SQUEEZE

I’m so glad Ms Lloyd had the presence of mind to slap the man who squeezed her breast. I’m sure he’ll think twice about attacking another woman. And his claim that he was only romping with her because she looked so good is outrageous. Presumably, an attractive woman must take full responsibility for provoking unwanted attention.

This is the identical assumption that the self-proclaimed “old fogey”, Mr Cedric Richards, makes in his letter to the editor, published on August 5. The headline is vexing: ‘Vagina not public property, but are women asking for it?’ And what, exactly, is ‘it’? Verbal abuse? Rape? These are acts of power, control and violence.

How would Mr Richards feel if a man grabbed his crotch in public? Would he concede that he’d been asking for it because he was dressed attractively? In a satirical letter to the editor, published on August 5, Ms Meng Na mocks heterosexual men who are afraid of being “checked” out by gay men but think it’s perfectly ‘natural’ for women to be groped.

safe_image.phpThe old fogey ends his letter with an irritating question: “Do the ladies have a responsibility to be more modest in their attire?” It’s not about how women dress. Even in societies where women are covered from head to toe, sexual abuse is a constant threat. Men have a responsibility to exercise self-control and keep their hands and penises under manners.

Instead of falling into the trap of thinking that unwanted sexual attention is a compliment, women must fight back. We cannot passively see ourselves as victims. We have to let men know that they are not entitled to romp with us against our will. And an unexpected response to sexual harassment – whether verbal or physical – can be a most effective deterrent.

On my walk one morning, a man called out to me, “Hi, sexy girl!” To be honest, I think he intended it as an innocent compliment. All the same, I thought I should put him in my place. I pleasantly replied, “Hi, sexy boy!” He almost fell off his bicycle.

Dutty Tribal Politics

images

Damion Crawford

Damion Crawford’s “unfortunate” apology is quite inadequate. He takes no responsibility for his words. He “got carried away”. I suppose he was possessed by evil spirits (both JLP and PNP) and ended up speaking in tongues: “Yuh suppose to can look pon a man an” sey a PNP dat enuh, or yuh look pon a woman an’ sey a PNP dat. Some a unnu haffi have on orange fi wi know, cause unnu lifestyle come een like a dutty Labourite.”

11084282-two-cute-cows-and-three-sheep-on-pasture-with-a-wooden-fence-and-landscape-in-background-1Under the influence of the spirits, Crawford highlights a problem that is particularly troubling for politicians who can never be sure exactly how many sheep they have in their pen. Jamaican voters are a slick crew. They follow you up and down on the campaign trial. They wear your T-shirts. They eat and drink with you and, behind, they don’t just ‘susu pon you’, as Bob Marley warned. It gets worse than that. Many of your apparent followers are not even registered to vote. And even if they are, there’s no guarantee they’re actually going to vote for you. They know they’re free agents.

This is a lesson many politicians, both JLP and PNP, have had to learn the hard way. Don’t trust the size of the crowd! So Damion Crawford’s ‘inspired’ words can be interpreted as a pastoral altar call, pleading with his flock for integrity. If you start to kiss your teeth at the analogy, just substitute ‘Christian’ for ‘PNP’, ‘heathen’ for ‘Labourite’ and ‘church clothes’ for ‘orange': “Yuh suppose to can look pon a man an’ sey a Christian dat enuh, or yuh look pon a woman and sey a Christian dat. Some a unnu haffi have on church clothes fi wi know, cause unnu lifestyle come een like a dutty heathen.”

OUTWARD APPEARANCE

dressMy reformulation of Damion Crawford’s damning words is not intended to let him off the hook. Instead, I want to underscore just how foolish his presumptions are. Neither ‘orange’ nor ‘church clothes’ is a sign of character. A wo/man’s true colours are not the ones s/he wears. As Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruit” (Matthew 7:26, International Standard Version). Politician or pastor, Crawford does not seem to understand that outward appearance is not to be trusted. Dreadlocks don’t signify Rasta. And some baldheads are steadily trodding on the path to Zion.

Another troubling issue is Crawford’s assumption that ‘PNP’ and ‘Labourite’ are permanent identities, fixed by your DNA: you are who you vote for. This conviction sustains tribal politics in Jamaica. Voters are not expected to use their intelligence, selecting the best political representatives in any election cycle. Well, best as far as you can tell. Instead, like a robot, you should simply vote generically for your party, i.e., yourself. Complete lunacy!

Talking-out-of-both-sides-of-your-mouthThese days, it’s so easy to get caught up in tribalism. If it’s not politics, it’s religion. We barricade ourselves in garrisons: we and them; saved and damned; uptown and downtown; queer and straight; green and orange; ‘dutty Labourite’ and ‘plyboard-an-zinc PNP’. (In this instance, Crawford appears to be an equal-opportunity chastiser, talking out of both sides of his mouth). Once you choose your camp, it’s not so easy to change sides. Worse, if you don’t choose a side, you run the risk of being shot at from all angles.

CRAWFORD’S TRUE COLOURS

RobertMontaque20070709C

Robert Montague

JLP Chairman Robert Montague had every right to demand an apology from Damion Crawford for that ‘dutty’ throw-word. He couldn’t allow Crawford to just dish the dirt and get away with it. Montague had to stand up for principle. But it was also a question of party pride. And Montague coudn’t resist the temptation to be tribalist. He had to draw the class card.

36614610In a press release issued on May 27, Senator Montague stated, “We know that generally when the PNP says they love the poor it’s about politics and not development, [sic] but now Minister Crawford has shown his true colours, too. The very same classist behaviour he accuses others of, [sic] is clearly in his heart if the card he draws to make a point, [sic] is one of the worst classist phrases to ever be brought by the PNP into the politics of Jamaica.”

The JLP equivalent of ‘dutty Labourite’ is ‘classist PNP’. Unfortunately, in the tracing match of tribal politics, ‘classist’ just doesn’t have the sting of ‘dutty’. And the reason is quite obvious. ‘Classist’ is English (from Latin); and ‘dutty’ is hard-core Jamaican, with all the authority of a big, phat bad-word. One could easily mistake ‘classist’ for a compliment. It sounds so stush. Not like ‘dutty’.

According to the Dictionary of Jamaican English, the noun ‘dutty’ (doti) comes from the Twi language of Ghana. Its primary meaning is ‘soil, earth, clay’. The dictionary makes it clear that ‘there is no necessary sense of uncleanness”. But it concedes that the meaning of the word has been influenced by English ‘dirty’. And, in fact, the second meaning of ‘dutty’ is ‘excrement, dung’.

sexism1As adjective, ‘dutty’ has come to mean ‘dirty’. But it’s much more than physical uncleanliness. In the Jamaican vernacular, ‘dutty’ covers a host of sins. Classism is dutty. Sexism is also dutty. I’m surprised nobody has challenged Crawford’s sexist view of women as lazy predators, waiting for Friday to telephone men for money.  That’s a whole other load of dutty.

Extortion At Papine Market

Market20130704NGIT’S SO much easier these days to get in and out of Papine Market. Traffic congestion has been significantly reduced. Taxi drivers have been forced to line up instead of sprawling all across the road waiting for passengers. I’ve taken it upon myself to reason with those few delinquent drivers who refuse to play by the rules and stay in line. 

I got an unexpected response when I asked one of them why he was “mashing up” the programme. He said he was a victim of extortion and was protesting. Yeah, right.  But, as it turns out, Mr Outa Order does have a point. The new orderly system is designed to encourage passengers to simply take the first taxi in the line. This innovation has made loaders redundant. Refusing to accept the fact that things have changed for the better (or worse), loaders are still demanding money from drivers to fill taxis. They insist on business as usual. After all, loaders make a living out of chaos.

extortionIt is only in societies like ours that ‘loader’ is a proper job. In fragile economies, disadvantaged people have to come up with creative solutions to the depressing problem of regular unemployment. “We know how fi tek wi hand turn fashion”. We learn how to make do and make work. With grand, sweeping gestures and lots of sound effects, skilled loaders entice hesitant passengers into taxis. I suppose loading is a lot like the ancient art of herding sheep.

One loader stubbornly told me, ‘A long time now mi a do dis ya work right ya so a Papine an mi don’t plan fi stop now’. This redundant ‘public sector’ loader belongs to no union. He cannot go to Mama P to ask for severance pay. Having invested years in perfecting his craft, he is not prepared to retool. Robbed of the work he knows best, he may be tempted to take up a deadly tool. Unemployment often does lead to crime, as we know all too well.

UNCONSCIONABLE EMPLOYERS

timeoffWhen I told the loader I was going to write about the issue, he asked me not to. He didn’t want any trouble. I promised him I wouldn’t reveal his identity and I would give him a preview of the article so he could approve what I said about him. Unfortunately, when I went to Papine last Tuesday afternoon to look for him, he wasn’t at work. Loaders need time off too. And since they’re self-employed, they can regulate their hours. They’re not stuck with unconscionable employers.

Incidentally, since writing the column, ‘Email from a hellish resort’, published on July 7, I’ve got more complaints from frustrated hotel workers. One man used this headline for his letter: ‘Local hotel industry turning dreams into nightmares’. He was terminated, with immediate effect, from his job in management, after two and a half years, without even an exit interview or a proper explanation for why he was fired.

all_workers_should_have_the_right_to_unionize_sticker-r7092a29536e14df783035e10c01900f9_v9wf3_8byvr_324For the last 16 months, he and his industrial relations consultant have been trying to set up a meeting with his former employer through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. As he put it, “all we have been getting appears to be a run around from the MOL”. When I suggested to another aggrieved man that hotel workers need to unionise, he asked a serious question: who is going to take the initiative to set up unions?

Workers are fearful about losing their jobs and trade union leaders seem to be fearful about confronting hoteliers. One woman who escaped the industry described it as “modern-day slavery”. If this is so, it is the employees who will have to emancipate themselves. “Backra massa” isn’t going to willingly allow trade unions to come into hotels unless workers fearlessly stand up for their rights.

“MI SHAME LIKE A DOG”

VoiceMailBack to Papine. I asked if anyone knew where the loader was and explained why I wanted to talk to him. A helpful woman telephoned him but got voicemail. A man who introduced himself as Chief Loader took the draft of the article. He was most offended when I asked if he could read: “Not because we a loader mek we can’t read”. I apologised profusely. “Mi shame like a dog”.

Chief Loader began to read the draft out loud to prove his point. But, to be honest, “im buck”. So I finished reading it for him. He said what I wrote was alright. I warned him: “No bodder tell me seh it alright an when it come out inna Gleaner unu blood me”. He reassured me that it was OK.

All the same, I took the number of the loader I had the agreement with and tried to call him. I got voicemail and left a message. I did get a call-back. But it was a woman saying rather suspiciously, “Is a uman answer”. I thought it prudent not to speak. “Next ting, my man ha fi go gi explanation bout why uman a call im. An is den im inna trouble”.

UNIVERSITY TOWN

Andre Hylton, member of parliament for Eastern St. Andrew, has a big vision to turn Papine into a university town. And expansion and rehabilitation of the market are part of the plan. How will the proposed development affect existing businesses? And who will benefit from the transformation of Papine? Presumably, things will get better for everybody who does business in Papine.

But, as the case of the redundant loaders proves, some players lose when development takes place. The challenge is to ensure that all stakeholders have a chance to take part in the ‘development’ process. But politicians rarely consult the people who will be most affected by the grand schemes they come up with.

logoAugust Town is a genuine university town. Many residents are employed by the University of the West Indies.   And the University has invested in the community, as in the recent Greater August Town film festival. Papine is a thoroughfare. If Andre Hylton does it right, Papine can become a first-class destination.

Email From A Hellish Resort

where-anonymity-breeds-contemptTwo Fridays ago, I got a distressful email from a hotel worker. I don’t know if it’s a man or a woman because the writer hid behind a false name. In certain circumstances, anonymity is essential. Exploited workers who desperately need jobs are often fearful about speaking up for their rights. Here’s the email, which I’ve edited just a bit for grammar. But I’ve kept the writer’s aggrieved tone:

“Good day to you, Ms Cooper. I enjoyed reading your article in The Sunday Gleaner dated June 23, 2013 on ‘Night work for women’. I have a similar problem I would like you to bring to attention for me. I have emailed several talk-show hosts and people in authority and, to my surprise, it has fallen on deaf ears and no one cares. This is the issue.

????????????????????????????????????????“I would like to know if the labour law in Jamaica doesn’t protect hotel workers. The law says that a person must work 40 hours per week, which is equivalent to 2 days off for the workweek. Well, there is a big breach of the law going on because in most hotels, if not all, workers are getting one day off per week at the 40-hour rate. How can this be? Most days, workers even work overtime and no overtime money is paid. What kind of law is this? I am sure that the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Tourism are aware of this breach.

“We are grateful and give thanks for our jobs. However, the law of the country goes for all. Workers who are either dedicated Seventh-day Adventists or Sunday worshippers cannot do their commercial activities on weekdays because that one day off cannot allow them. Also, one day off cannot allow the body to get enough rest for the hard work that your employers require of you.

NO LUNCH BREAK

“Some managers even treat staff with no respect at all. Another issue is that due to the workload, we cannot get our full one-hour lunch break. Depending on certain departments like Housekeeping, some staff cannot even take lunch break due to the demands of a busy day. To make things worse, we are not unionised.

deaf-1“I would like if you can highlight this issue for us and let it be known to the relevant authority. Please don’t turn a deaf ear on this issue like talk-show hosts. I assume that they don’t want to lose their regular free passes or accommodation. We need justice. You sound like a balanced person who will take up this issue. Thanks for your cooperation.

“Send me a confirmation email to let me know if you got this email because it’s not all the time we can listen the radio or TV due to work hours. Also, send me follow-ups of your investigations.

Yours respectfully,

Anonymous hotel worker”

originalI did send the requested confirmation email. I also called the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to find out what the employment laws say on these contentious matters. As it turns out, Anonymous Hotel Worker (A.H.W.) is misinformed. The minimum lunch break is 45 minutes, not a whole hour. And full-time employees are not, in fact, entitled to two days off. It’s more complicated.

The National Minimum Wage Order, 1975 states: “Every employer shall, in each week during which any worker, other than an hourly worker … works for him, allow that worker one day as a rest day.” The language of the law is so roundabout. What it means is that full-time workers are entitled to only one rest day per week.

rest-dayFurthermore, the Order states that, “The day on which the rest day of any worker is to fall in any particular week shall be determined by agreement between that worker and his employer.” Agreement is all very well and good. But how easy is it to disagree with your employer? Especially if you’re not in a trade union, you hardly have any power to negotiate deals with your employer. You end up doing what you’re told.

HIGH PRICE FOR ‘FREENESS’

Unionised or not, employees who work for more than 40 hours each week are most certainly entitled to overtime pay. If A.H.W. is telling the truth, the unjust withholding of overtime wages is, indeed, a serious breach of the law. But which employee is going to be bold enough to confront the boss when jobs are so scarce?

BlackLogoJHTAA senior manager at one of our hotels admitted that exploitation of workers is widespread in the industry. Refusing to pay for overtime work is a common offence. Not at his hotel, he hastily reassured me. I called the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association and rather naively asked if they knew of any hotels that were not paying overtime wages or if they had had any complaints from employees about not being paid for overtime work. The person to whom I spoke claimed, without a doubt, that no hotels are in breach of the law. I don’t suppose it would have been reasonable to expect any other answer.

But if it’s really true that many hotels are, in fact, failing to pay workers overtime wages and are not allowing any lunch break at all, the minister of tourism and entertainment ought to launch an investigation. Disgruntled workers are not an appealing advertisement for the tourist industry. And shamelessly exploiting cheap labour just isn’t good for business in the long run.

lost-causeA.H.W. cynically proposes that it’s access to free passes and complimentary accommodation that’s stopping journalists from exposing lawbreakers in the hotel industry. If that’s really so, it’s a high price to pay for ‘freeness’. Depending on the media to help hotel workers get justice is a lost cause. It’s not even a last resort.

 

If Men Could Get Pregnant …

UnknownMinister Lisa Hanna is absolutely right. It’s high time for us to review the backward law that turns women into criminals because they choose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The law also criminalises medical doctors and unlicensed practitioners of various sorts who assist women in getting abortions.

It’s a highly emotional issue, especially in a fundamentalist Christian society like ours. After all, the Bible says, “Thou shalt not kill.” And abortion is murder. But is it? A foetus is not a human being, in much the same way that an egg is not a chicken. The egg does, indeed, have the potential to become a chicken. But if it’s eaten for breakfast, that’s that. It’s a pity some of us aren’t rational enough to see the difference between a foetus and an actual child.

hard_labour_by_rotwang1979-d5ay0v4According to the 1864 Offences Against the Person Act, a pregnant woman who tries to abort the foetus in her own body is guilty of a felony and, if convicted, is liable to be imprisoned for life, with or without hard labour. No pun intended, I suppose. If anyone attempts to help her with the abortion, that person is also guilty of a felony and is liable to be similarly sentenced. The ‘druggist’ who supplies any ‘noxious thing’ to be used for the abortion, or even the bearer of the thing to facilitate the process, is also liable to be imprisoned.

This piece of legislation is truly remarkable, especially bearing in mind the history of our country. The act was passed a mere 30 years after the abolition of slavery. All of a sudden, a foetus (not a ‘child’) was much more valuable than millions of enslaved Africans who were seen as beasts of burden and, therefore, entirely fit subjects for protracted abuse. Their lives needed no protection. An unborn ‘person’ now had more rights than actual persons, many of whom still had vivid memories of being brutalised by enslavement. Did this act have any moral authority? Or was it intended to ensure the availability of an unending supply of cheap labour?

THE UGLY ISSUE OF CLASS

7374820-oppression-just-ahead-green-road-sign-with-dramatic-storm-clouds-and-sky-300x200It took more than a century for Jamaica’s oppressive abortion law to be modified. In 1975, the Ministry of Health, in a Statement of Policy on abortion, declared that it was now “lawful for a registered medical practitioner, acting in good faith to take steps to terminate the pregnancy of any woman if … he forms the opinion that the continuation of the pregnancy would be likely to constitute a threat to the life of the woman or inure [work] to the detriment of her mental and physical health”. Note the gendered language: the medical practitioner is presumed to be male.

The Statement of Policy called for amendment of the Offences Against the Person Act (1864) in order to clarify the circumstances in which abortion could be deemed lawful in Jamaica – such as in cases of rape, carnal abuse and incest. Thirty-eight years later, the antiquated act has still not been amended. And what about much broader reproductive rights?

choice-300x300-1Lisa Hanna must be congratulated for boldly daring to put on the agenda the contentious matter of decriminalising abortion. And she raises the ugly issue of class. As she perceptively observes, “Abortion is still illegal in this country, and a woman’s right to choose whether or not to keep her pregnancy is, in effect, exercised only by those who can afford a private doctor.”

Quite early in my career at the University of the West Indies, a student fearfully confided that she was pregnant. One of the challenges of being a teacher, even at the tertiary level, is that students expect advice quite unrelated to academic matters. I immediately asked the distraught young woman if she had told her mother. She said she was afraid to tell her. I reassured her that her mother would certainly understand. In two twos, she had an abortion and hardly missed any classes.

ECONOMICS, NOT MORALITY

0e2cbec33784484476_ram6b5siaIf all the middle-class women in Jamaica who have had abortions would speak out on behalf of their poorer sisters who have limited access to safe terminations, the law would have to be changed. But so often in these matters, there is one standard for the rich and another for the poor. If you can afford to pay for a safe abortion, this somehow makes you superior to women who can’t. It’s no longer a matter of morality; it’s all about economics.

Data from the Ministry of Health confirm that approximately 1,200 women are treated each year for complications arising from unsafe abortions. And those are just the official figures. In the 21st century, poor women in Jamaica are still risking their lives in order to claim reproductive rights that middle-class women simply take for granted.

Lisa Hanna has been viciously attacked, particularly by men who seem to presume that they are divinely ordained to exercise control over the bodies of women. Last Wednesday, The Gleaner published a letter by a cowardly writer, most likely a man, hiding under the false name, ‘Oxy Moron’. Headlined ‘Let’s kill every poor pickney’, the truly moronic load of drivel was elevated to the status of Letter of the Day.

Distorting Ms Hanna’s plea for reform, the moron pretends that the minister is proposing mass murder: “Go and fetch every woman and every girl who is pregnant, but lacks parenting skills, and exterminate their babies, even the pretty ones who could become Miss World!” Of course, the reproductive rights of women are not about killing ‘poor pickney’, pretty or not. In Jamaica, it’s ‘rich pickney’ who are aborted.

Florynce_Kennedy_publicity_pic

Florynce Kennedy

The African-American lawyer, civil-rights activist and feminist Florynce Kennedy famously declared, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” What is now a badge of shame for women would become a sacred rite of passage marking the transition from childhood to adulthood. But since it’s women who do get pregnant, we have to turn shame into pride as we claim the right to control our own bodies.

Night Work For Women

images-1It sounds like progress. An old-fashioned law that curtails the freedom of women to choose the time of day (or night) they wish to work is under review. The 1942 Women (Employment of) Act says a lot about both class and gender politics in Jamaica. The act prohibits night work for women. And it’s not about prostitution. These days, sex work is no longer gender-specific. And it isn’t necessarily done only at night.

The act defines ‘night’ as “a period of at least 11 consecutive hours, including the interval between 10 o’clock in the evening and 5 o’clock in the morning”. Work is described as “every business or undertaking carried on for gain, except a business or undertaking in which only the members of the family of the owner or proprietor are employed”. I wonder why women in family businesses are exempted.

In exceptional circumstances, women are allowed to work at night. This is what the act says:

“No woman shall be employed in night work except where the night work is:

(a) for the purpose of completing work commenced by day and interrupted by some unforeseeable cause which could not be prevented by reasonable care; or

PERISHABLE-GOODS(b) necessary to preserve raw materials, subject to rapid deterioration, from certain loss; or

(c) that of a responsible position of management held by a woman who is not ordinarily engaged in manual work; or

(d) carried on in connection with the preparation, treatment, packing, transportation or shipment of fresh fruit; or

(e) that of nursing and of caring for the sick; or

(f) carried on in a cinematograph or other theatre while such theatre is open to the public; or

(g) carried on in connection with a hotel or guest house, or with a bar, restaurant or club; or

(h) carried on by a pharmacist registered under the Pharmacy Act.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

bottomlineThese ‘exceptional’ circumstances are quite a peculiar mix. Nursing and pharmacy I understand. These are life-saving professions. And fresh fruit and raw materials do have a short lifespan. But what’s so special about women working in theatres, hotels, guest houses, bars, restaurants and clubs? Are these night jobs similar to the world’s oldest profession? Making money all through the night clearly takes precedence over protecting supposedly vulnerable women. The law keeps its eye firmly fixed on the bottom line.

And why are women in management exempted? It looks like a class issue. Women who are “ordinarily engaged in manual work” are not allowed to do night work. But better-off women are? Or is this exemption really just a sick joke? In 1942, how many women actually held “a responsible position of management” in any “industrial undertaking” in Jamaica? Relatively few, I suppose. So why make such a big issue of exempting them?

In 1961, new trades and occupations were added to the list of exceptional jobs that women could do at night. It all seems quite random: for example, manufacturing of sugar, rum, cigars, cigarettes, cordage, rope, twine, butter, cheese, condensed milk, soap, margarine, lard compound, edible oil, textiles and paper. The list goes on and on without apparent rhyme or reason.

images-4The only occupations on the new list that obviously provide essential services are in civil aviation, public passenger transport, telecommunications, and the fire brigade. Newspaper publishing is also exempted, but some sceptics will say that journalism these days is not an essential service; it’s more entertainment and less hard-core news reporting and analysis.

 

EXPLOITING CHEAP LABOUR

At the rate the Women (Employment of) Act is going, we might as well speed it into extinction. On the face of it, amending the old law is a good idea. In these enlightened times, women ought to be free to choose when they work. But there’s definitely a downside to freeing up women for night work. It’s not all about emancipation.

In fact, night work seems to be just another form of exploitation of cheap labour. A few years ago, I met a female security guard at Devon House who was on the last of three consecutive 12-hour shifts. Yes, 36 hours straight, day and night! Talk about ‘pop down’. She could barely keep her eyes open. She explained that she was doing it for the money. She had children to look after.

images-2Is there a hidden motivation behind the seemingly progressive plan to remove the restrictions prohibiting night work for women? And will all women, rich and poor, equally benefit from the new legislation? Not likely! The revision of the act seems to be intended to force poorly paid women to work for 12 hours at a stretch – without the full benefit of overtime pay as usual. It’s all about flexiwork.

The present labour laws require an employer to pay time and a half on Saturday and double time on Sundays. In the new flexiweek, overtime will be calculated only after 40 hours of work. So, in effect, you could employ someone for two 12-hour shifts with no ‘overtime’, then exploit them further by employing them on weekends and not paying overtime. This is a total reversal of all the labour rights our foremothers and forefathers struggled for.

Not surprisingly, David Wan, president of the Jamaica Employers’ Federation, enthusiastically supports the proposed amendment of the act, as reported in a Gleaner article by Daraine Luton, published on June 5: “Take it off the books! This is a different day, different time.” But how different are these times? With our long history of exploiting cheap labour, we should be very cautious about enacting legislation that threatens to weaken workers.

123According to Labour Minister Derrick Kellier, flexiwork will increase productivity. But at what price? Will physically and emotionally exhausted workers actually be more productive than healthy ones? And will poor women doing night work for next to nothing be better off now than in the old days? “Jackass seh di world no level.” It’s a pity that jackasses of the human kind refuse to listen.