Call Centres Everywhere. Are We Paying Attention?

Last night, on Twitter, I wrote “Call Centres are like churches and bars. There is one of every corner (in Kingston). Scary.”

My tweet was read with much skepticism. The responses, unsurprisingly, suggested that unemployment is scarier and one person asked if we should ask the call centres to pack up and go. Of course, that is not the answer and certainly not what I want.

What I have noticed, each time I raise the matter of how frightening it is that there are so many call centres all around and how dependent we have become on them, is that the vast majority of us do not think beyond the mere provision/availability of a job. This is rather sad.

Call centres, like all-inclusive hotels, are are among the primary sources of employment in Jamaica–especially for young people. They are also the spaces where our citizens face rampant abuse, paid low wages and without options for redress to challenge the unfair treatment they are subjected to. I shared my concerns about this section in The Jamaica Gleaner a year ago.

Privileged as I might be, I am acutely aware of the experiences of persons working in call centres (and all-inclusive hotels). Their rights, their dignity, their humanity are often ignored and trampled upon. They are forced to remain silent, to suffer, to accept the abuse because they have no job security. They are constantly told/reminded that there are many people on the outside waiting for them to leave to get their job. This is no way for anyone to live.

I am happy that there are opportunities for people to be employed but I am bothered about the conditions under which people, some of whom I know, are forced to work. We can’t only think about the availability of jobs. We have to think about the quality of jobs people can access for gainful employment, the laws and policies that protect them, and their access to redress if their rights are violated.

We have to be concerned about the rapid rise in call centres (there must be a reason for this). We have to be concerned about how we woo these entities to our shores (usually by letting them know they can pay us much cheaper than they pay Americans, according to one ad I saw from JAMPRO). We have to be concerned about the benefits offered to these entities to set up shop in our country. We have to be concerned about how we condition our people to accept abuse and the violation of their rights.

What really is the point of working so hard if the conditions under which you work are poor and you can barely take care of yourself? Perhaps someone will do an independent assessment to truly understand the situation –economic, psychological and otherwise and determine a way forward.

Jamaica Needs a Pro-Poor LGBT Rights Movement

Jamaica JFLAG

The Jamaican LGBT (rights) movement has myopically focused most of its attention and resources on “the buggery law” and the impact this archaic piece of legislation has had on discrimination and violence experienced by (cis)men who are or perceived to be gay. 

I started working at J-FLAG in October 2010, just after finishing my MSc. in Social Development & Communication and having conducted research around homophobia, gay rights activism and how new media can be used to amplify the work that was being done and engender greater respect for the rights of LGBT people in Jamaica. 

My vision was to build a movement that appreciated the symbiotic relationship between human rights and development. I wanted use my influence and expertise to help build the organisation’s social and political capital and implement a project towards mainstreaming LGBT issues in public policies and programmes outside of HIV. 

I was surprised to learn, in my first year, about the tremendous support J-FLAG was expected to provide to members of the community to help them get back on their feet and live their fullest potential. It was a need J-FLAG was and still is unable to fulfill given the limited resources available and the fact that funding in countries like Jamaica is typically for HIV. 

Consequently, organizations like J-FLAG and JASL, despite their long history working with the community will always be constrained in what they can do. The situation is even more difficult because donors tend to be very strict about how their money is spent and have a limited range of activities/initiatives they think are critical to improving the situation and will fund. 

Sadly, despite the obvious needs of many persons in the community, not much has been done to address their socio-economic realities and vulnerabilities, including how homophobia and transphobia cause or exacerbate such circumstances among the poorest and most vulnerable members of the community. 

Up to the establishment of WE-Change, TransWave and Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, there has also not been much focus on issues related to women who are transgender, lesbian, or bisexual and men who are transgender or bisexual (we often forget these men). Therefore, even when there were socio-economic related conversations, they tended to be about (cis)gay men. 

The situation is most daunting. Seven years later, I still do not know/have the formula to address the plethora of challenges faced by the community. What I know for sure is that for LGBT people in Jamaica to be fully liberated, we must not ignore their economic, social and cultural rights. A focus on “the buggery law” alone is terribly inadequate.  

We have tried a bunch a different things, including expanding the government and non-government entities we foster relationships with. Last year, we reviewed the National Policy on Poverty Green Paper and the Social Protection Strategy to analyze whether LGBT and other human rights issues are considered as vulnerabilities and make recommendations in this regard. In meetings with parliamentarians, we highlight the socio-economic realities and encourage them to work around improving the support the government can provide to persons. We have done initial work around increasing the minimum wage and addressing the rampant abuse of rights of Jamaicans who are low-income earners. We trained Youth Empowerment Officers and youth leaders across the island to understand the challenges faced by LGBT people so they can provide the needed support. Importantly, we have also been working with shelters to see if they can help LGBT people who become displaced or are homeless and making referrals to agencies that might be able to provide further assistance, including access to jobs, where possible. Lastly, in addition to participating in the National Committee on Homelessness, we have time and time again called on the government to improve its response/programme to support people who are homeless and displaced. 

I know J-FLAG is perceived by many to be an uptown and elitist organisation. Truthfully, the vast majority of “uptown gays” are not particularly interested in the work the organisation does and they certainly do not get direct assistance to address any immediate needs they may have. 

I am acutely aware that staff is believed to be uptown and far removed from the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia that are pervasive across the island and make so many fearful. This is also far from the truth. Everyone comes from diverse backgrounds – country, ghetto, poverty, etc, which have had a significant impact on their life. 

We are, however, not daunted by these experiences and are committed to using our resilience, courage and triumphs to work tirelessly to make life better for everyone, especially those who are poor and vulnerable in the community. We want an advocacy agenda that is pro-poor, a movement where advocates and activists fiercely stand up and speak out about the needs of those who are among the poorest and most vulnerable in the community.