Workers excluded from labour protections
In 2021, there were major concerns about the widespread breach of workers’ rights in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector in Jamaica, one of the fastest-growing industries in the Caribbean. Of the 40,000 BPO workers in Jamaica – whose roles varied from customer service to technical support, sales and more – nearly all were working on fixed-term and temporary contracts, and not one of the 70-plus companies operating on the island had allowed trade union representation within their firms.
Thousands of young workers were lured into call-centre jobs, enticed by promises of good salaries and skilled work within a high-tech, global industry, only to find themselves facing a completely different reality once the contracts were signed: long hours, short or no breaks during busy periods, and environments where employers hire and fire at will. While not explicit, the language in their contracts implied that organising and collective bargaining were grounds for dismissal.
Meanwhile, BPOs benefited from special privileges, as they operated under special economic zone (free zones) legislation as “public utility services”. This arrangement resulted in a range of tax exemptions and anti-union laws: for example, there can be no strikes unless unions give employers six weeks’ notice.