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Lock them out!

Musicians' union calls for ban on overseas performers in tourism sector when it reopens

Monday, June 01, 2020

As Jamaica prepares to welcome back tourists to its shores this month, the Jamaica Federation of Musicians and Affiliates Union (JFMAU) is urging the Government to place a ban on foreign performers who operate in the tourism sector.

According to JFMAU President Karen Smith, as Jamaica begins to reopen its borders to foreigners, and ease restrictions put in place to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections, the entertainment and creative sectors are left in the process of trying to figure out how to get back to work.

Smith noted that the entertainment industry came to a total standstill in March, forcing creatives to turn to virtual platforms to showcase their products with little return for their efforts.

She argued that as governments around the world begin to ease restrictions, much more uncertainty remains around how live entertainment will be managed, and what protocols will be put in place to protect the creatives and their audience.

Smith said one area of discontent within the tourism entertainment sector in Jamaica has been the importation of talent from other countries like Cuba and Dominican Republic.

“For nearly 10 years local dance groups, variety acts, singers, and bands have been shut out of employment, replaced by foreigners with work permits for large entertainment companies and Spanish hotels,” said Smith.

“Jamaican entertainers have been underemployed within the sector for far too long, making them even more vulnerable during this time of crisis. What will happen regarding job availability when the sector reopens? That uncertainty continues to plague entertainment practitioners whose plight has worsened in the face of COVID-19,” added Smith.

The JFMAU president noted that even if the economy reopens this month, most concerts, festivals, and other live events have been cancelled for July and August and for much of the rest of this year. She said this has had a devastating effect on musicians who depend on the summer concert/festival circuits both locally and internationally.

“With regard to the entertainment industry within tourism, we anticipate more participation for local performers on the hotel stages. There was never full employment in this area, and so there must be no more work permits granted for overseas talents as there are Jamaicans here who can do the job,” declared Smith.

“What happens to local community cultural groups and Jamaican dance groups who cannot find work? The JCDC (Jamaica Cultural Development Commission) and other organisations unearth talents that will struggle to find a place on a local stage to earn. Instead, dancers are scooped up in batches and brought to Jamaica to work six nights a week.

“The JFMAU believes that Jamaican talent must be the first point of contact to satisfy market demand, and the sector is underemployed,” said Smith.

Smith further argued that as the cruise shipping industry faces recovery challenges, all the musicians, dancers, and other creatives on board are now out of work, competing for the already diminished job availabilities within the tourism sector in Jamaica.

“The JFMAU will beseech the prime minister to intervene where entertainment work permit requests are made, and we will be appointing a watchdog committee to monitor these instances,” said Smith.

“The JFMAU is focused on ensuring a level playing field throughout the entertainment sector that maximises the available opportunities for its members and the industry, especially as displaced musicians and creatives will continue to experience the effect of COVID-19 for some time,” added