Jamaica:’It is hard to live’

The protest over arrears for overtime work staged by police in Kingston and St Andrew yesterday received strong support from their colleagues in St James who also complained about less than adequate working conditions.

“It is hard to live under the current conditions when every month there is an increase in food [prices] and necessities, yet the pay remains the same. On countless holidays and nights we are away from our families putting in long hours and not complaining, only to find out we have been robbed by our employers for years,” said a policeman who requested anonymity.

“We do overtime every day. It gets hectic if there is a major incident whilst on duty, like a murder [or] fatal road collision, then you will find yourself doing an excess of 17 hours — whether it’s holding the scene while they process or at the hospital gathering information from victims,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

The Jamaica Police Federation, which represents rank and file members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), has taken the Government to court regarding overtime back pay for which negotiations started in 2008. At the time, the court had decided that police who work beyond the lawful hours must be paid for the extra time.

On Wednesday, in an open letter to the Government, the federation said its members will forego overtime from 2008 to 2015. But the federation wants a lump sum payment and the rest paid within two years.

The Government, though, is offering to pay overtime back pay from 2019 over six years.

Yesterday members of the JCF, most dressed in black and red, congregated outside the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston as federation officials and their attorney argued their case inside.

The more than 300-strong gathering of police personnel, with many displaying scant regard for COVID-19 protocols, said they will not back down from their demands.

“We fed up! We want money!” they shouted.

The case was postponed until December 16. In Montego Bay, one policeman said he is “completely outraged” by the situation.

“I just feel betrayed, that’s all. The Government really a play politics with the lives of the JCF members, and it is full time that they appreciate and acknowledge our worth and the work that all of us do,” he said.

His views were echoed by a colleague who told the Observer that he does not believe they are asking for too much, based on the quality of work being provided by cops.

“The Government has asked a lot of the police [and other security forces], and all we want is to be fairly compensated for all the hard work already done, the time spent away from our children and loved ones, all those sleepless nights, and close-to-death experiences with hardened criminals, that’s all we are asking for, but time and time again we are treated like slaves,” said the policeman who also asked not to be identified.

He added, “We ask [yet] we are given so little.”

The policemen also said they are prepared to go on strike with the rest of their colleagues during the festive season, regardless of the current states of emergency (SOEs) and zones of special operations (ZOSOs) in force in the violence-torn parish of St James.

“I’m in support, 100 per cent. We are given 28 sick days yearly so as long as we don’t go in excess there will be a major decrease in police personnel, especially in the festive season when all boots are expected on the ground,” the policeman said.

“We already suffering under the current ZOSO and SOE in terms of lack of resources and working conditions, so I’m sure a lot of officers will enjoy spending Christmas with their families,” he added.

A third cop, who is assigned to the Norwood ZOSO outstation, also shared that his reason for supporting his colleagues is that, in addition to not being paid for the overtime worked, police assigned to his location are also being treated unfairly.

“Not even uniform is provided. I’ve been at Norwood ZOSO since the commencement and I’ve been begging for a suit of denim, and all I can hear is that the order was sent to Kingston. I and other officers had to buy uniforms from independent contractors. I bought three suits at $10,000 per suit just to be able to work in denim,” he said.

He also told the Observer that police assigned at that outstation had their meal allowances cut and are being fed food which they believe is unacceptable.

“They say we are provided three meals per day and as such every police officer is losing about $8,000 per month; and if you see what they serve you would be disappointed,” he said.

“They serve lunch between 2:00 and 3:00 pm [daily] and whenever it reaches it is cold and tastes bad. Not to mention the supper, which we would normally get paid $750 per night, instead at ZOSO and SOE we get a small box with fish head, a slice of banana bread and a box drink,” the policeman said.

While he opts to buy his meals when at work, the cop said he had concerns for some of his colleagues who, he said, “are in bad shape”.

“I personally buy food when I work. I’m never the type to complain, so I just go to work, count down my hours, and leave. However, other officers there are in bad shape, especially those who come from other divisions that have to work up there. They are getting less money without the meal allowances and some of them drive there and drive back home,” he told the Observer.

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