Tough times for tourism workers

March 25, 2020
Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios, St Ann.
Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios, St Ann.
Tourist rafting on the Rio Grande in Portland.
Tourist rafting on the Rio Grande in Portland.

Workers within the tourism sector said they are now left to wonder 'weh the next meal a come from' because they are currently without a stream of income.

Most hotels and resorts are now facing imminent closure due to travel restrictions. Workers are being asked to stay home so as to protect the island's tourism product from COVID-19.

Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett had announced that all hotels would stop receiving guests for a period of two months, which would have been in effect since last Friday.

An employee at Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rios told THE STAR that it has not been easy for her.

"Right now a plan me a plan fi beg, dat a the only thing, because it's not like me can look work somewhere else; everywhere lock down. If me nuh work, me nuh get pay, so I don't know how me a go provide for myself now that the virus is on and me cyah attend work," she said. "I'm hoping the company work something out to see if dem can at least give us a thing."

Likewise, Josephine, who works in a hotel in St Ann, told THE STAR that she feels as though her life is crumbling because right now she doesn't see a way forward.

"Bwoy, right now me nuh have no idea. Me just hope seh this virus ting pass so that me can find sumpn fi do. Dem seh dem a close down fi two months. Weh me a go get money fi buy food and stuff like that?" she asked.

"All now me nuh get no pay from the last time me work, not even a call or nuttin me nuh get from dem. No money nuh in a me account and me did a hope seh dem would a pay me suh me could gwan juggle some things in the meanwhile fi survive," she added.

Meanwhile, Bartlett said that he has been working with the Ministry of Finance and the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association to put in place fiscal arrangements that will help to cushion the impact of COVID-19 on workers in the sector.

"I want all workers in the sector to know that we are aware of the challenges and ripple effects of this pandemic as activities grind to a halt and questions surrounding job security arise. Based on these new developments, I have been in discussion with my colleague minister of finance and the JHTA to iron out a plan of action to help safeguard all our workers, over the last several weeks," Bartlett said.

Shadow minister of tourism, Dr Wykeham McNeill, has called for a waiver on rental fees in all craft markets across the island, a waiver on all tourism-related fees for the industry's transport sector, and an easing of fees on parking locations such as airports and cruise ports.

McNeill said that there has been significant displacement in the tourism sector, not just those in hotels but smaller establishments, including guest houses, restaurants and even cookshops.

"In areas like Negril, where the corner shops and jerk chicken vendors are a part of the tourism product, I am concerned that these most vulnerable stakeholders may not be considered, and they,too, will be suffering considerably from this unprecedented shutdown of the industry," Dr McNeill said.

"The next couple of weeks, if not months, will be difficult for all of us, but let us ensure that the economic relief is far-reaching and includes those least likely to survive without government intervention," he added.

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