Blue flu hits Jamaica’s cops

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Almost half of the rank-and-file members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force called in sick yesterday to press their claim for an increased wage and fringe benefits offer from the Government.

Large sections of the country were left without security as a result.

“Some people reported sick while others did not show up for work,” Acting Deputy Commissioner, Linval Bailey told The Gleaner yesterday.

He warned that those who called in sick would have to produce a doctor’s certificate. In the case of those who were absent, DCP Bailey said there is a system of accountability in place and that each absent officer would have to give an account of his/her time.

Week possible

However, despite the threat, some police insiders believe that the industrial action could continue throughout the rest of this week, as the rank-and-file members continue to press Government for a wage increase.

Policemen and women, from the rank of constables to inspectors who are represented by the Police Federation, have been demanding a 47 per cent increase in salaries over two years and not the three per cent that has been stipulated under the Public Sector Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The Police Federation has been in dialogue with the government for over a year to have the wage claims addressed.

Yesterday, members of the Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF) were out in full force to bolster the depleted ranks of the JCF. While declining to give the total number of personnel who stayed off the job, DCP Bailey said there were no major fall outs, but some divisions were affected more than others.

One of those affected divisions was St. Catherine North which was rocked by a double murder on Old Harbour road yesterday.

The dead men have been identified as 32 year old Garfield Walker of 67 Old Harbour Road and 30 year old Bobby Smith of 65 Old Harbour road. Reports are that at 4:15 p.m., the two men were returning to their car after making a purchase at Kojac Auto Supplies when gunmen approached them on foot, and opened fire hitting them. Both men died on the spot.

In the meantime, there was no reported upsurge of criminal activity in western Jamaica. The city of Montego Bay remained a portrait of order despite a noticeable absence of lawmen from the streets. As the ‘sick-out’ spread like a virulent virus throughout the police ranks, Minister of National Security Dr. Peter Phillips urged the police officers to desist from any planned industrial action.

“I don’t think that there is a basis without discussion, for any kind of industrial action. I don’t think that it is in the interest of Jamaica as a whole,” said Dr. Phillips.

“I would really want to urge all the men and women of the force who are themselves going full steam ahead in confronting the criminal activities that are affecting the country to bear in mind that they and their families, as well as the country as a whole, have an interest in maintaining our vigilance and the integrity of our security situation.”

Blue flu

However, despite the Minister’s pleas, the wave of ‘blue flu’ continued unabated.

There were reportedly huge traffic jams in Negril and in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland because of the industrial action. According to some reports, as many as 50 per cent of the officers called in sick in Negril, while one in five officers did not report for work in Savanna-la-Mar, forcing senior officers to assume duties at the Savanna-la-Mar courthouse. One correspondent in Spanish Town reported that an inspector was seen manning the front office of the station.

Police operations all over the island were hobbled by the planned industrial action. Senior Superintendent in charge of the Police Traffic Division, Elan Powell, said members of Highway Patrol were visible on the road but that regular motorcycle patrols were absent.

Emergency cases

In Manchester, Superintendent George Quallo reported that the police were responding to “emergency cases only” while Deputy Superintendent Hartnel Brown said that while Portland was not seriously affected.

However, it was not a blanket ‘sick-out’. In the towns of Spaldings, Frankfield, Chapelton and Croft’s Hill in Clarendon, Gleaner correspondents reported that “all the policemen reported for duty, and that in Spaldings, the cops were out in their usual numbers manning traffic.”

DCP Bailey stressed that the army was on stand-by and ready to assist, if necessary. A spokesperson for the JDF Civil Military Affairs said that the “The Jamaica Defence Force will continue to assist the police in maintaining law and order and we are ready to assist when necessary.”

If you value our service, if you have turned to us in the past few days or weeks for verified, factual updates, if you have watched our live streaming of press conferences or sent an article to a friend... please consider a donation. Quality local journalism was at risk before the coronavirus crisis. It is now deeply threatened. Even a small amount can go a long way to sustaining our mission of informing the public. We need our readers’ financial support now more than ever.