NWU calls for better protection of tourism workers

The National Workers Union (NWU) says that due to the effects of COVID-19, the rights of workers in the tourism sector have become more marginalised and worker protection has become almost non-existent.  

The union made the claim in a statement Thursday as it labelled what is occurring in the tourism sector as “modern day slavery”.

Noting that the tourism sector is not the only sector in which this “atrocity” occurs, the union said: “The NWU understands the need to focus on improving hotel occupancy and the business side of things, however, it cannot be to the detriment of the human capital, of which the sector can be nothing without.   As recovery begins to take place, we have seen where workers are being asked to work more hours for less pay and no benefits.  We must never forget that during this pandemic many workers have had to make unbelievable sacrifices while still showing up and giving of their best.  Many have experienced layoffs, reduced salaries, redundancies, and all of experienced increased cost of living on a depreciating salary.  Many of them will not return to normalcy any time soon, as it relates to the salary levels at which they were contractually engaged.” 

The union said several companies in the sector who have exercised these deleterious options, have treated work as a commodity, which flies in the face of the International Labour Organisation’s Decent Work Agenda to which Jamaica is signatory.  

“They have also argued that if they do not take some of these measures, there will be no employment.  What much of this has resulted in is that fewer workers have had to take on the work of those on layoff or made redundant while completing their own tasks.  They do not get extra pay for the additional work being done, neither do they get full pay for the work they are contracted to do. This is leading to and has led to burn out of the workers, both physically and mentally.  Furthermore, if they refuse they are looking at unemployment for the foreseeable future,” the union explained.

It argued that it is time that Parliament and the Government, in particular, pay more than “lip service” to protecting the rights of workers.  

“The Occupational Safety and Health Bill has been delayed for over 25 years, to the detriment of the Jamaican worker. Our history has shown that a Government has no qualms in pushing through legislation that they deem important.  

“Better policing by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and its agencies/departments is needed to ensure workers are being protected in this pandemic and that they have ease of recourse where discrepancies occur.  One way to start is to make it easier for workers to become unionised in any industry or sector. What we find is that in the tourism sector, where workers are unionised, while there were moments of contention, the management of workers and company rights were dealt with fairly. Most workers are not, and in many instances are fearful of being, unionised and this has caused great malady,” the union continued.

The union pointed out that the working poor continues to increase as a group in this country, due in part to the pandemic but said it is by no means the only or the major reason.

The NWU is calling on the Government and the owners of capital to consider the country’s human resources.  

“As we see the issues affecting doctors, nurses, teachers, sanitation workers, we remain concerned that work is not an important consideration for our Parliament and owners of capital.  We must develop a recovery plan that has workers at its core.  Anything else will lead to malaise and despair.  The Jamaican workers have suffered enough.  We caution those who have ears to hear that 1865 happened, 1938 happened, it can happen again,” the union said.

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