Short-term labor contracts exploit the poor and enrich foreign multinationals and the elites, the Bishop of Jamaica said this week in his address to the diocesan synod. “Lazarus still sits by the side of the road outside the gate,” said the Rt. Rev. & Hon. Howard Gregory, “and he hears and he sees the prosperity of Jamaica’s Dives passing by daily, self-absorbed and expounding the language of prosperity, rehearsing the statistics, but unaware of his presence.”
Bishop Gregory’s comments came during his presidential address to the 2019 Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands synod held on 22 April 2019 at St James Parish in Montego Bay. His charges of exploitation of the island’s workers follows in the wake of claims made by the nation’s labour minister who called the practice an accepted part of the modern industrial world.
In his sermon, Bishop Gregory singled out the tourism and Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) industry for criticism noting “several of the most lucrative industries at the moment need to be brought under the microscope for their employment practices…”. BPO firms in Jamaica serve as subcontractors in data processing, information technology and other labor intensive activities for US and European firms, who move part of their operations to the Caribbean to take advantage of cheap labor and lax employment laws.
BPO workers are “without job security, and do not enjoy the benefit of vacation, health insurance, worker benefits for which labour unions fought as part of the development of modern Jamaica and an expression of social justice.” the bishop said.
Tourism, “the shining star of the economy,” was also guilty of exploiting workers, he said.
In a March interview published by the Daily Gleaner, Labour Minister Shahine Robinson defended the practice, even though the ruling Jamaica Labour Party’s allies in the trade unions have denounced the practice. The Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) recently called for an end to the practice of employing workers on short-term contracts over long-term tenures, denying them benefits of full-time employment such as staff pensions and other allowances.
The minister said that “we all would want is a better solution to what currently exists, but I must tell you that the ILO recognises contract work.” Mrs. Robinson added that the Labour government did not see short term contracts as a problem for Jamaican workers, and would not ban it.
In his sermon, Bishop Gregory said this thinking was unjust to workers and economically shortsighted. “In a society in which only a small proportion of workers are on any pension plan, and where many persons designated self-employed are not contributing to the National Insurance Scheme or the National Housing Trust, we better begin to think long term, and not just how playing with statistics can make the situation look good today,” the bishop said.
The government must seek to protect these “exploited” rather than expect them to “carry the burden for economic prosperity,” Bishop Gregory said.