Jamaica’s Reputation, Workers and Border Control

Hotelier and Chairman of Sandals Resorts, Gordon 'Butch' Stewart. Photo credits - Nytimes.com

Hotelier and Chairman of Sandals Resorts, Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart. Photo credits – Nytimes.com

‘It is impossible to get staff to work like the Jamaicans work once you train them’.

So said international hotel mogul and founder of one of the world’s top hotel chains, Sandals Resorts, Jamaican Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart in mid March 2013. Jamaica Stewart declared has the best workforce in the Caribbean region. And he should know.

Sandals is a massive employer of Caribbean workers, with 90% of workers in his Jamaica properties being Jamaicans. Stewart spoke of the ‘diligence’ of the Jamaican worker which he attributed in part to the flexibility of successive Jamaican governments  in allowing work permits for foreigners to work in Jamaica. The notion is that imported skills and expertise are of great benefit to the Jamaican workers who would learn and adapt new skills sets.

Sandals Resorts, Jamaica

Sandals Resorts, Jamaica

This is a massive compliment for the Jamaican workforce for two reasons. One – the Jamaican worker only a few weeks before was highlighted in a Superbowl commercial by German car manufacturer VW as laid back, unconcerned about work ethic and very much cavalier about the seriousness of duty.

While this ad was reflective of a general Jamaican personality of being easy, affable and fun, it did not paint a complete picture of the Jamaican workforce. The diligence, industry and commitment to task of the Jamaican worker is very often not captured in global imaginings of Jamaica. This is to be blamed in part on the over simplistic portrayal of Jamaica in the global media as a place of fun, frolic and excitement.

Click here to view the VW 2013 Superbowl ad…. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7Q9i_wvd8U

Second – Butch Stewart’s evidentiary transcript on the diligence and positive attitude of the Jamaican worker is exceedingly crucial to Jamaica’s brand image. The perception of a country’s labour force is vital to its reputation capital, particularly at a time when nations must bank on their reputation in order to compete in a new global economy where there is fierce competition to attract investment and lure tourists, trade and students. In order for Jamaica to be seen as a great place to do business, it’s workforce must be seen to be have good work ethic – be professional, punctual, diligent, disciplined and offering the best customer service. Investments in training and retraining is essential if this country with a depleted economy is to achieve greater levels of prosperity.

Jamaican hotel worker

Jamaican hotel worker

It is to be noted however with great concern that despite the positive view of Jamaican workers in the regional context, skilled Jamaican workers are being denied entry into countries of the Caribbean community (CARICOM) such as Barbados. This is despite a longstanding agreement embedded in the Treat of Chaguaramus allowing the free movement of workers throughout this regional bloc. New figures released by CARICOM reveal that a total of 1,485 Jamaicans were refused entry into Barbados between 2007 and 2012. The figures have raised alarm bells of discrimination and prejudice against the Jamaican. This as Jamaica, more than any other CARICOM nation, have been discriminated against by Barbados border control in recent years.

Figures showing # of Jamaicans denied entry to Barbados since 2007.

Figures showing # of Jamaicans denied entry to Barbados since 2007.

Barbados is not alone. Powerful industrialised nations have refused entry to Jamaicans and nationals of other nations for a variety of reasons. There was a time when the UK summarily denied entry  to thousands of Jamaicans on the basis of a perception of citizens as potential ‘drug mules’.
Other nations in the Caribbean and elsewhere have denied entry or banned some of Jamaica’s artistes and musicians from performing in their countries because of varying negative perceptions of Jamaicans abroad. In addition, Caribbean countries such as St. Martin and Aruba (not members of CARICOM) have instituted visa regulations for Jamaica, premised in part on negative perceptions of our citizens.
This situation speaks volumes about the power of a nation’s brand and the extent to which perceptions of its citizens impact on economic, diplomatic, cultural and political relations with other nations and the myriad benefits to accrue from such relationships. Whereas the Jamaican worker may be perceived as industrious and diligent, if generalized behaviors of Jamaican citizens are seen to be negative, the repercussions are tremendous.
Simon Anholt – the father of nation brand theory envisioned a day when the most important aspect of foreign policy will not be trade or defense  but reputation. That day may already be here. The Jamaican authorities can no longer ignore deficits in it’s national brand, including the sector which communicates its reputation most visibly to the world – its people.
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Dr. Hume Johnson is the Founder of the Re-Imagine Jamaica Project. A former broadcast journalist and media consultant with political parties, she is currently Assistant Professor of Public Relations and Media Studies at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island, USA. Her book ‘Challenges to Civil Society: Popular Protest and Governance in Jamaica’ is published by Cambria Press. Hume can be reached at reimaginejamaica@gmail.com
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