Jamaicans for sale?
Despite inflation, we all deserve food.
I took a trip to the grocery store the other day and, admittedly, I had a hard time accepting the increased cost of food. I’m sure we’re all struggling with the same question: How is everything increasing except our pay? From there I started to ponder about how Jamaicans may be managing worldwide.
Did you know that the same grocery items cost more in Jamaica than they do in the USA, Canada, and the UK? Someone reading this may have already known, but when the comparison was made using a basic grocery list the results were somewhat shocking to me. Why does food cost more in Jamaica than any of these countries — twice as much as in the UK? Better yet, how do we continue to afford this?
For a Jamaican earning minimum wage, it costs 25 hours of work to cover the same food bill, compared to the three hours (or less) spent by their counterpart in the UK, USA, or Canada. Why is labour worth more within the migration triangle? In Jamaica, is work worth less?
Jamaica has cheap labour. This is something the economists often say, but is this labour cheap or just underpriced? In June 2023, the Government of Jamaica increased the national minimum wage from $9,000 to $13,000. This is commendable, considering that the “new rate represents a 44 per cent increase… the largest in 20 years”. (Jamaica Information Service) On the face of it, this is a significant increase, but let’s consider that the hourly wage is £10.42 in the UK, CAN$16.55 in Canada, and as much as US$15.00 in some US states.
I’ve spent some time living outside of Jamaica. In that time I’ve observed that even without all the degrees, years of experience, and “links”, the average Canadian, for instance, can manage to afford food. The federal government enforces a living wage which ensures its people can afford clothes, rent/mortgage, safety, and even a “likkle car”. On the other hand, most Jamaicans have to move out to move up. Sometimes this move is to another company and other times its to another country.
Why does Jamaica place so little value on the work that Jamaicans do? More must be done to set us up for success.
I recall a campaign for us to ‘Buy Jamaican’, but are we now on sale — for cheap? Over the years, we have seen a massive influx of call centres. They create jobs, but these are lower-paying jobs. The positions require high school education, but a significant number of staff have undergraduate degrees.
In Jamaica, high paying jobs are few.
The will of Jamaicans must be applauded and studied, along with our capacity to make ends meet. There are people among us who borrow money to cover the cost of getting to work. As I write, there is someone sitting in air-conditioned comfort filling out their third salary advance form for the year. I wonder how they will make it to December. Yet, on the “bright side”, at least they have a job.
Are we jogging on this spot? Is this modern-day slavery? We get up and get dressed in conditions unsavoury. Economists explain, because I don’t understand, how owners of means measure the worth of a man.
We have a lot of real work to do, as we are all stakeholders in this. Let’s start by having the conversations that count. Each of us needs to better understand our worth and how our actions and attitudes can help or hurt our outcomes.
Our leaders can create more strategic linkages between the courses being pursued at the tertiary level and the jobs and industries that have demand. We must create more high-value jobs and careers to match the supply of high-skilled workers being produced.
Jamaica produces quality. We are reminded of this when a student migrates, then quickly makes the honour roll and again when a co-worker migrates and swiftly lands a position with a well-established firm. This is how we guard against brain drain. This is how we retain the talent we produce. This is how Jamaicans will better help to build Jamaica.
Now, more than ever, we must endeavour to create a sustainable ecosystem in which every Jamaican can proudly live, work, raise families, and do business.