IT’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.
It 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.
When 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.
For 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”
Back 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”.
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.
August 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.