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Wholesale woes linger despite new minimum wage

Workers complain about poor conditions, employer disrespect

BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Staff reporter
hendrickss@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 19, 2018

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Following the announcement of a 13 per cent increase in the National Minimum Wage in June of this year, there has been mixed responses from some of the people who are paid in that range.

Among them are workers in wholesale establishments, many of them run by Chinese nationals in Kingston.

Some workers told the Jamaica Observer that, for the most part, their weekly pay has in fact gone up from $6,200 to at least $7,000. Some reported that they had received more than the minimum, up to 9,000 per week, and one woman said that she has yet to see an increase in her pay which remains below the current minimum wage.

However, in spite of the general compliance among wholesale establishment owners with the new minimum wage, which would have taken effect on August 1, reports also indicate that all is not well with wholesale workers as far as their proper compensation and basic employee welfare and security are concerned.

Among the complaints from some wholesale workers are that they work for extended hours without receiving overtime pay. Some report that they do not get sick leave or days off, while others say they are not given enough time for lunch.

One worker, who has been employed in a wholesale for two years, described her employers as unfair. She said although she has been working there for long, doing so without days-off, her pay has remained at $6,200 since she started, until earlier this month when it was raised to $7,000.

“The pay and how dem treat people, dem just unfair. Being there for so long with one pay for the two years, and we don't get day off, so it come in like it very unfair fi see that we don't get day off and we don't get the right amount of money that we should get. If we ask dem say if we can get a raise, dem a say is either we leave the work or sumn like that.”

She went further to explain that working from Monday to Saturday, for more than 40 hours a week without overtime pay, is the norm.

“We work six days a week, and I'm saying dem never haffi pay exactly what di Government say. Minimum wage is for five days, don't it? And we don't get day off, so is actually just the five days we getting paid for. Dem easy fi fire people. Sometimes like you would tell dem say you nuh feel good dem will tell yuh say fi lift up dis and dem something deh,” she went on.

One employee from another establishment reported that while the staff there each got at least one day off and are paid up to 8,000 per week, they also work for extended periods without compensation, and are not given their full lunch hour break.

“Dem open like eight o'clock in the morning and dem don't lock till after nine, mostly on Saturday. But during the week dem open eight o'clock in di morning and lock seven or eight in di evening, and we don't get pay fi dat. Dem ever a tell you say come early and dem nah lock early. We supposed to get one hour lunch time and we nuh get dat.”

She also lamented fluctuations in her pay, depending on where she is placed to work.

“Because them have more than one store, them can transfer you from top store to di bottom store. When mi dung a bottom, mi get $6,000. But because pay raise now, mi get $7,000. When you up a top you get like $8,000 plus and them nuh lock till after nine or so. Dem nuh have a specific time fi lock, but dem have a specific time fi open.”

In another case, one employee who has been working at a wholesale for three years complained that, “Sometimes if yuh nuh mind sharp, dem would a have you a work like for the whole day, no resting. Them don't want you to like sit down or anyting like dat. Them have a problem with that.”

Although some workers reported getting a full hour for lunch, most complained that they were only allowed to break for between 30 and 45 minutes, while others explained that even when they are allowed one hour for lunch, that time is often cut short.

In other cases, there were complaints of workers' phones and bags being confiscated during work hours.

“We can't use our phones. They don't allow us to keep the phones or touch the phones until after work hours — only like when we get lunch time,” reported one employee.

Another woman, who has been working in a wholesale for 10 years, described a recent sqaubble with her employer for asking to use her phone.

“Is only like if your phone ring dem give it to you, and recently me and dem catch up over it because I didn't have anyone to pick up my son so I had to keep checking. So when mi keep asking for it him say why mi a ask for it so much time.”

She went further to explain that workers are also charged $100 if they are on their phones for more than five minutes.

“If we keep the phone over five minutes, they are going to charge us $100. I want to know if that is correct. A chu mi nuh get the time fi go up a ministry go ask bout it.” she said.

The same employee raised another issue of not being able to get a job letter to conduct business.

“If we want to get a job letter to get some things done like to open a bank account or so, we can't get it. We don't get a payslip, we just sign a book. And If you don't have a payslip, you need a job letter”.

Another female worker complained that her employers do not hire males, leaving all the heaving lifting to a female-only staff.

'They don't hire men workers so we have to carry the heavy load and boxes upstairs and dem sumn deh.”

Asked why males were not hired, the worker theorised that they are afraid male workers would steal the goods.

She went further to report that regular body searches are the norm.

“When we're going to the bathroom or if we're coming out of the store, they will search us from head to toe, like all the time we get searching. We can't go in the stores with our bags, we have to give them our bags before we go in.

“We don't have a specific time that we leave from work. And they take every little pence from our pay. If we come in late, like maybe a minute or two, you have to pay $50. It depends on the minutes that you come late. If it's 1-15 minutes, and if it's 15 mins to 35 mins it's $100, and if it's an hour, it's $200. And we can't eat pineapple, no fruits, because they tend to say that we cause the rats — but they can eat it. We can't eat patty in there either. No guinep or plum or cane. It's only like snacks.”

A National Labour Market Survey, published by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security last year, found that a large segment of persons employed in the informal sector belong to the wholesale and retail industry. In 2015, 35.5 per cent of persons employed in the informal sector were from that industry.

In an assessment of 42 wholesale establishments as far back as 2007, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security found that employees were working for extended periods without receiving overtime pay, in accordance with the provisions of Jamaica's labour legislation.

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