KSAC Sells Street to Chinese?

ksacTwo Sundays ago, I got an alarming email: “Having read your article ‘Pearly Beach a no fi poor people’, I found it imperative to make you aware of a troubling situation existing in downtown Kingston. What obtains on Princess Street, between West Parade and Barry Street, are spaces along the roadway marked ‘No parking. RESERVED KSAC’, accompanied by a number of some sorts. These spaces are sold to Chinese business operators by someone at the KSAC at a reported cost of $200,000.

“I took the liberty of parking in one of the spaces recently and was instructed to move by a Chinese gentleman. I made some enquiries and found out that the business operators received letters with KSAC letterhead offering the purchase of parking spaces along the Government’s roadway. Well, suffice it to say, I did not move, as I don’t think I can buy space on the public thoroughfare in China, and believe Chinese should not be able to do so in Jamaica. I hope you may find interest to investigate this matter and bring some public attention through your column.”

I was interested and called the office of the CEO of the KSAC. He was in a meeting. When I said I was enquiring about the sale of parking spaces on Princess Street, I was referred to another office. But I didn’t want to buy a parking space. I needed information on the policy. It was only the CEO (in the meeting) who could update me.

So I sent an email: “Can you please let me know the terms on which parking spaces are sold? To whom are parking spaces sold? And at what cost? When was this policy first implemented? And how is it managed? I very much look forward to your answer to these questions and to any other pertinent information you can offer.”

To date, I haven’t got a response. If the KSAC operates in the same way as the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), I suppose I’ll get an answer in about two weeks. No matter how long it takes, these questions must be answered in the public interest.

 

PRESUMED RIGHTS

 

The perceptive man who emailed me made a connection between the business of selling parking spaces on the street in downtown Kingston and limited access to Pearly Beach. It appears to be the same issue: The Government of Jamaica selling the rights of citizens to the highest bidder, whether foreigner or local.

e874c2259dbf5ae5c59c44f4e29bdcedAs it turns out, some of these presumed rights are not rights at all. They are figments of our collective imagination as a supposedly independent nation. I was intrigued by the response of Peter Knight, CEO of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), to both my column, ‘No beach for local tourists’, and Diana McCaulay’s excellent article, ‘The problem of beach exclusion’.

First of all, Mr Knight makes an error in reporting the headline of my column. He writes, ‘No beach for local tourist’. Singular. I actually wrote ‘tourists’. Plural. The issue of beach access is much bigger than the exclusion of a single individual. It’s about all Jamaicans who ought to have the right to enjoy well-kept beaches.

And, again, I’m appealing to all Jamaicans at home and in the diaspora to sign the petition to the prime minister launched by the Jamaica Environment Trust: ‘Better Beaches for All Jamaicans’. You can find it at change.org. So far, 1,245 of us have signed. Our goal is 5,000, at least.

Mr Knight’s response was published on January 22 with the deceptively succinct headline, ‘Jamaica’s beaches: access and rights’. I wondered if he was hoping that only a few people would read the long-winded article, especially since the news was not good:

“Ownership of the foreshore is vested in the Crown, except where rights are acquired under or by virtue of the Registration of Titles Act or any express grant or licence from the Crown subsisting immediately before 1956. The portion of the beach above the foreshore may be private or public property. The Beach Control Act did not seek to convey general rights to the public to gain access to and use the foreshore or the floor of the sea.”

 

DOG NYAM WI SUPPER

 

In plain English, this is what Mr Knight was saying: “It’s the Crown (now the Government) who owns the beaches – unless the beach was sold or leased before 1956. So beaches can be either private or public property. The Beach Control Act was not set up to give the public any general rights to beach access.” In other words, dog nyam wi supper.

There is also the even older Prescription Act of 1882. That was passed over a century ago, a mere 15 years after the Morant Bay war. This act allows rights to fish and bathe, based on tradition. But, again, as Mr Knight writes, “There are no general common-law rights over the foreshore, except to pass over it for the purpose of navigation or fishing.”

Why have we held on to these outdated acts? Because they protect the interests of the rich and powerful, especially those who have made major investments in the tourist industry? I suppose we need tourism in much the same way we need Chinese businesses on Princess Street. But at what price? Where is the vision to save us from perishing?

top-10-jamaican-business-stories-for-2016-810x810

Chanting down greedy hoteliers

Last week’s post, ‘No Beach For Local Tourists’, touched a very sensitive nerve. I got so many emails from both Jamaicans and other Caribbean citizens who are very concerned about the way in which hoteliers dominate the conversation about public access to our beaches.

crb-24-diana-mcaulay

Diana McCaulay, CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), highlights this troubling issue of special interests in her excellent article, ‘The Problem of Beach Exclusion’, published in The Gleaner on Wednesday, January 11: “In 1997, the NRCA [National Resources Conservation Authority] began work on a beach policy to address issues surrounding public access and a Green Paper was drafted which proposed open access. There was immediate pushback from the tourism industry”.

Of course, there was pushback! Hoteliers don’t want open access to beaches because this will reduce their control of valuable resources. Their all-exclusive hotels would become much too inclusive for their liking. They want to erect barbed wire fences, stretching into the sea, to keep out the locals.

We cannot sit back passively and allow our beaches to be captured by greedy hoteliers, irresponsible politicians and all those who benefit from the current state of affairs. We have to take action. We, Jamaicans, like to think of ourselves as militant. We boast about our Ashanti warrior heritage. But we don’t always put up a fight for important causes. We need to follow the example of our uncompromising Caribbean neighbours who refuse to be shut out of their beaches.

VIRAL PROTEST

I got an inspiring email from Antigua. Here’s an excerpt. I’ve deleted the name of the hotelier: “A few years ago, [a Jamaican hotelier] tried to get the Government of Antigua and Barbuda to ‘allow’ him to turn one of our most visited and, by far, favourite beaches – among locals and visitors – into a private enclave for his guests. The protests from the locals and nearby residents were not only unrelenting, but in your face. Some of the protests even went viral. He eventually backed away and the Government did not have to intervene … the people with the power had spoken.”

img883

One of the most outspoken warriors in the fight to keep Caribbean beaches out of the grasp of hoteliers is the Barbadian calypsonian The Mighty Gabby. His 1982 calypso, “Jack”, was a classic piece of throw word confronting Jack Dear, chairman of the Barbados Tourist Board. Dear, who was certainly not dearly beloved, had declared that hotel owners had the right to develop their property up to the waterfront of the island’s beaches.

This is how Gabby launched his counterattack:

“I grow up bathing in seawater

But nowadays dat is bare horror

If I only venture down by the shore

Police telling me Ah can’t bathe no more

Cause Jack don’t want me to bathe on my beach

Jack tell dem to keep me out of reach

Jack tell dem I will never make the grade

Strength and security build barricade

Da can’t happen here in this country

I want Jack to know dat di beach belong to we

Da can’t happen here over my dead body

Tell Jack dat I say dat di beach belong to we”.

Gabby knows that the barricades are all about the tourist dollar. And he’s not prepared to sell his birthright:

“Tourism vital, I can’t deny

But can’t mean more than I and I

My navel string bury right here

But a tourist one could be anywhere

Yet Jack don’t want me to bathe on my beach”.

Gabby’s use of “I and I” is an assertion of Rastafari consciousness. It empowers him to chant down the forces of oppression.

BIG UP WI BEACH

Tourism is now vital to our economies across the Caribbean. But we have to find a way to balance the requirements of the tourist industry and the needs of citizens. We can’t just fence in tourists and fence out locals. Many hoteliers assume that their property is like a cruise ship. And the ship is the destination. But some tourists actually want to escape the all-exclusive prison. They want to meet the people outside the barricades.

Diana McCaulay shows us the way forward: “It is true that harassment is a problem for the tourist industry – or indeed for any visitor to a Jamaican beach. But the response cannot be exclusion. The response has to be commitment to a set of articulated principles – frequent access points; provision of well-managed public beaches, including the requirement for behaviour by beach users that does not present a nuisance or threat to others or to the beach itself”.

thThis week, the Jamaica Environment Trust launches ‘Big Up Wi Beach’ on Facebook. It’s an open forum for debate on beach access and related issues such as beach erosion. Readers are invited to post images of their favourite beaches and to write about their memories of great beach outings.

JET is also developing a petition to the Government advocating a definitive policy on beach access for all Jamaicans. I trust that the Urban Development Corporation will support the petition. I won’t hold my breath. I still haven’t gotten an answer to my email to the director of corporate communications about access to Pearly Beach. And I hope Jamaican musicians will create a song in support of the campaign. Like Gabby, they simply must chant down greedy hoteliers.

No Beach For Local Tourists

pearly-beach-entranceOn New Year’s Day, a carload of us drove up, down and around Ocho Rios looking for a public beach. Our first stop was Pearly Beach. The name sounded promising. But we might as well have gone to the Pearly Gates. St Peter would not let us in. The security guard said it was a private beach managed by UDC (the Urban Development Corporation). It could be rented but it was not open to the general public without prior arrangements.

We wondered if we should forget about finding a decent public beach and just go to one of the hotels. So we stopped at Jamaica Inn. Unfortunately for us, but not for them, they were at full occupancy. And their policy is not to issue day passes when the hotel is full. The view from the hotel lobby showed hardly anybody on the beach. But hotel policy is hotel policy.

We asked the receptionist if there was a public beach nearby and we were told about one in the centre of Ocho Rios. That’s not a beach. It’s a port. Back on the road, we kept looking for a public beach and we were sent to Sugar Pot beach. That’s not a beach. It’s a wasteland. We were well salt.

‘NO FOOD & DRINKS’

We decided to try our luck at Bamboo Beach. The sign at the entrance boldly announced that this was PRIVATE PROPERTY. And there was a long list of rules and regulations including: No drugs, no firearms or weapons, no ganja smoking, no profanity, vulgar language or loud behaviour and no soliciting. All very well and good!

But we were not amused to find that food and drinks were prohibited. The gate hostess informed us that the car would have to be searched and if we did have food and drink there were two options. We could either eat and drink before going on the property. Or we could leave our food with the security guard. Neither option was appetising.

img_2248The last item on the sign read: “Please call management to report any questions or concerns”. We got voicemail. So we kept going. By now, we had wasted a lot of beach time looking for a beach. We decided to try Shaw Park Beach Hotel. For US$65 each we could access the beach and get lunch. Or we could pay J$1,000 each to go to the adjacent White River beach, entry to which was controlled by Shaw Park.

We decided on the latter option since food and drink were not prohibited. But, alas, the White River beach was not a beach. The river had been in spate so the water was muddy. The beach was dirty. There was a dog roaming around. We quickly ate our food in less than ideal circumstances.

On the way out, I complained to the manager of the hotel. He was surprised that we had been sent to the beach because he knew it was not in a good condition that day. And he cheerfully refunded the entry fee. That was some consolation. But after all of that upping and downing, we still hadn’t gone to the beach!

HELD HOSTAGE

On Tuesday, I called the UDC office in Kingston to ask about access to Pearly Beach. I was advised to send an email to the director of corporate communications, which I did. I proposed that one of the priorities of urban development ought to be ensuring access of all Jamaicans to public beaches in ways that are consistent with local cultural values – for example, self-catering. Patrons should not be held hostage by beach operators who attempt to force them to buy food and drink on the property. UDC has not yet responded.

The Jamaican Government needs to take lessons from Barbados. All beaches in Barbados are, by law, national parks and cannot be privatised. Every citizen of Barbados has access to all beaches. One of my favourites is Accra Beach, named after the capital of Ghana. Both locals and tourists enjoy the beach which reminds me of Hellshire. Full of vibes!

hellshirebeach

Hellshire Beach before and after erosion

By the way, if the Government doesn’t move quickly to build back the reef at Hellshire, the beach will die. Imagine, Kingston is sitting on the seventh largest natural harbour in the world and we don’t have a single beach in the city. We have turned the harbour into a cesspool.

There’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about record visitor arrivals. We welcome these foreigners. But we simply can’t forget about local tourists who also want to enjoy the beauty of our homeland. We have to launch a national campaign to take back Jamaica’s beaches from private operators. In the 1970s we used to say we’re more than a beach, we’re a country. Now, we need to claim our beaches. They should belong to all Jamaicans. Not just a few hoteliers.

And the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) needs to look carefully at its ads for the North American market. There are hardly any black tourists! It seems as if even Jamaicans in the diaspora who come home often are not recognised as tourists. We only want their remittances! The issue of beach access may not just be about locals. Perhaps, for the JTB, the ideal tourist is really not black.

Twenty Years Of Reggae Day

Last Tuesday, July 1, was International Reggae Day. One of the highlights of the celebration was a huge video installation projected on to the exterior wall of The Jamaica Pegasus hotel. From Emancipation Park, it was quite a sight. Reggae posters from across the world were displayed, demonstrating the magnetic power of Jamaican popular culture, especially our music.

5-taj-francis-jamaicaI overheard a woman complaining with typical arrogance: “Mi a see picture from all bout an mi naa see nothing from Jamaica.” Mi naa lie. As soon as she said it, Taj Francis’ brilliant poster of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, the Upsetter, appeared with a big flag of Jamaica beside it. Seet deh! My lady laughed contentedly.

The moral of this little story is that we’re often so nationalistic we just can’t appreciate the global impact of Jamaican culture. It’s quite ironic. The fact that so many of the reggae posters came from outside Jamaica should be a cause for pride, not complaint.

We don’t seem to realise just how far Jamaican popular music has spread. We take our creativity for granted and we rarely stop to think about why so many people from such diverse cultures are attracted to the music produced on this little rock. And it’s not just the beat and the lyrics that fascinate foreigners. It’s also the academic value of the music.

ROOTZ RADICALS

Just last Friday, I got a telephone call from Christian Moll, a graduate student specialising in English/American studies and music at the University of Regensburg in Germany. He was trying to find an external supervisor for his thesis on dancehall. Moll is also a reggae artiste who has been performing for over a decade. His band, Rootz Radicals, plays original music, both roots and dancehall.

http://rootzradicalzsound.wix.com/rootzradicals

Of course, I’m going to take on the project. It sweet mi so til! Twenty-five years ago, this month, I presented my first academic paper on dancehall at the annual conference of the UK-based Society for Caribbean Studies, ‘Slackness Hiding From Culture: DJ Rule’. I am indebted to DJ Josey Wales for the title. That pioneering work has inspired a younger generation of scholars, both local and international, to take dancehall culture seriously.

So we’ve given reggae music to the world. But sometimes we act as if reggae was stolen from us. We conveniently forget that the roots of reggae run deep into other black musical traditions. African-American R&B, fused with jazz and mento, produced ska – Jamaican jazz! Ska evolved into rocksteady, then reggae, and now dancehall. And we hear the riddims of religious revival music in dancehall.

Jamaican popular music is a ‘mix-up an blenda’ of musical traditions, both sacred and secular, that take us straight across to the continent of Africa. We don’t ‘own’ the music. Of course, this certainly does not mean that individual creators of song lyrics, melodies and riddims are not entitled to claim all the benefits of their intellectual property.

PROTECTING THE FUTURE

Unknown-1One of the tragedies of our music industry is that so many of the pioneering artists were cruelly exploited. Not by foreigners, but by unconscionable Jamaican producers who knew that for some never-see-come-see artistes, just hearing their tune on the radio was enough of a reward.

Leading up to International Reggae Day, there was an excellent conference held on June 30. One of the sessions focused on ‘Copyright Term Extension: Preserving the Past and Protecting the Future’. No matter how many of these conferences are convened, there are still so many players in the creative industries who do not know their rights.

Another session examined ‘Social Design: The Power of Art to Transform Space’. Like the exterior wall of the Pegasus hotel! Thanks to Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson, founder of the International Reggae Poster Contest (IRPC), art moved out of the gallery and into public space. Phase Three Productions, one of the sponsors of International Reggae Day, provided technical support for the video installation.

reggea-poster-map-1The 2012 IRPC attracted 1,142 entries from 80 countries. In 2013, there were 1,100 submissions from 78 countries. The 2014 contest was launched on International Reggae Day, and within hours entries came in from Slovenia, the UK, India, Portugal, Croatia, Spain, Greece, Japan, Venezuela and, of course, Jamaica – as that anxious woman in Emancipation Park will be pleased to hear.

Andrea Davis, founder of International Reggae Day, must be commended for her grand vision. Two decades ago, she recognised that the globalisation of reggae should be acknowledged and celebrated. It hasn’t been an easy journey. Sometimes, vision isn’t enough. You also need plenty backative.

I think it’s most unfortunate that six years ago when the bright idea of a Reggae Month came from out of the blue, somebody forgot that we already had a Reggae Day. It would have been so sensible to build on the foundation laid by Andrea.

134_imgaWe could easily have dubbed July Reggae Month. It would now fit so well into the Government’s plan for ’90 Days of Summer’. There’s Sumfest, which, like its predecessor Sunsplash, helps to fill empty hotel rooms in the slow summer season. But we always have to keep on starting from scratch. We forget that protecting the future also means remembering the past.

A Tale of the Magical Calabash

imagesOnce upon a time, three friends, Colin, Kwame and Justine, set out looking for treasure.  Not quite.  They weren’t children playing in the sand.  They were adults who understood that treasure isn’t something you just find.  It’s what you create.  And they certainly knew about creativity:  Colin Channer, the novelist; Kwame Dawes, the poet; and Justine Henzell, the producer of events from scratch.

So they conjured up this international literary festival and set it in an improbable location, Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica.  It would add a whole new dimension to Brand Jamaica!  They named the festival ‘Calabash’.  And they invited the world and his wife to attend.  Mateys were welcome too.  And admission was free.  Whosoever willed could come.

photos_1But why this quirky name?  Well, the festival was going to be held at Jake’s Hotel in Treasure Beach.  But that’s not a single beach.  It’s a string  of fishing villages: Billy’s Bay, Frenchman’s Bay, Great Pedro Bay and, yes, Calabash Bay.    Colin chose the name to honour the location of the festival.  And calabash also suggests creativity.  As we say, turning our hand to make fashion.

res1_07aThe hardy calabash, from both the tree and the vine, is very versatile.  It has several practical and artistic uses.  In many cultures of the world, the hollowed-out gourd is a water vessel.   And musical instruments are also created with calabash.  For both the sitar from India and the kora from West Africa, calabash is used as a resonator.  So the multi-functional calabash is a brilliant image for a homegrown literary festival that includes musical performance.

‘GLOBALICIOUS’
The twelfth staging of the Calabash International Literary Festival, a month ago, was dubbed ‘globalicious’ by Kwame Dawes, the programmer for the event.  And it certainly was both global and delicious.  The calabash was full to the brim and running over with both literary and musical delicacies.

Calabash2014Logo-300x256The writers came from twelve countries:  Antigua, Barbados, Belarus, England, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago, Scotland and the USA.  And the musical performers were from Haiti, Jamaica, the UK and the USA.

For me, the most engaging writer/reader was Jamaica Kincaid.   She “shell down di place”, as one of my friends put it.  We’re now so attuned to the culture of the gun that excellence in all spheres of life is celebrated with a gun salute – whether verbal or literal.  A real pity!  Blame it on the military and all those Hollywood movies that big up gun violence.

boutique-hotel-Jakes-Hotel-Villas-and-Spa-St.-Eli-1-8-3-2-thumbA very close second was Salman Rushdie who turned out to be quite different from what I expected.  He was very cool; not at all stuck up.  As another of my wicked friends said, “nothing like a fatwa to keep you real”.  After the festival, I stayed on for a few days at Jake’s.  And the young man who carried my bags announced with quite a flourish that Salman Rushdie had stayed in that very cottage.  I must admit I felt like a groupie.

ngugi_wa_thiongoThen I was so looking forward to hearing Nguigi wa Thiong’o read.  He’s one of the stalwarts of the anti-colonial war on the African continent. Unfortunately, his daughter, Wanjiku, stole the show.  Literally.  She read for forty-five minutes, instead of her allotted twenty.  And her brother Mukoma read for thirty minutes.  So the Big Man had to be cut off soon after he began.  And it was such a powerful story he’d started to tell about coming home from boarding school to find that his village had disappeared.

OPEN MIKE, MAIN STAGE

 One of the highlights of the festival always is the Open Mike.  There are so many entertaining surprises.  Like the farmer and fisherman whose stage name is “The Incredible Steel”!  He rode 48 miles on his bicycle from Jerusalem, Santa Cruz to perform his poem, “The Voice”, in tribute to Tessanne Chin.  He got a standing ovation.  Then there was the cosmetologist, Venise Samuels, who performed a brilliant poem about unconscionable taxation.  So much talent!

Treasure Beach Sc_bc_TreasureB28The only disappointing aspect of Calabash is the lack of comfortable accommodations.  Of course, there’s very little the organisers of the festival can do about that.  After all, Treasure Beach, is a fishing village.  But some of the people in the rental business have rather grand names for very basic lodgings.  ‘Villa’ is a most pretentious word for a small four-bedroom house.  And there are ‘resorts’ that bear absolutely no resemblance to their upscale namesakes.  All you can say in their favour is that they are a last resort if you absolutely can’t find anywhere else to stay.

calabash-2007-stageBut all you really need for Calabash is a place to crash.  If you try to keep up with the programme, you would go non-stop from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. the next day!  And even if there are not too many villas and resorts in the fishing village, there is always the sea.  It’s a magnificent backdrop for the main stage.  I can’t imagine that there’s any literary festival anywhere on Earth that has a better setting.  It’s all in the magical calabash.

 

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.