Jamaica Magazine

Jamaican "craftsmen" by American Retiree in Jamaica

Crafts, as in plumbers, carpenters, electricians, etc., not woodcarvers and the like. These people, mostly men, can be found in abundance if you know
where to look. The companies listed in the yellow pages of the phone book are usually
larger diversified businesses. As anywhere else, recommendations are the best way
to get a reputable craftsman. The majority of them aren’t listed in the phonebook.
Friends and neighbors are the best source. The other option is to call a local
supply house. Each one has certain craftsmen who regularly work out of that shop.
However, none of them are employees thus the shop is not liable for faulty workmanship
or damage to one’s property. Most, if not all, of them are unlicensed. At least
this has been my experience over the last four years living in Jamaica.

My first experience happened shortly after moving in to our new home. The former
owner had a very small washing machine with a small utility sink next to it in the
laundry area. My extra large capacity washer wouldn’t fit in to the space where the
other washing machine was which meant the sink would have to be moved. I also had a
brand new dishwasher which needed to be installed. The existing dishwasher was also
smaller in width than my standard size Maytag. This was not a problem as there was
expandable space under the counter to accommodate the larger size.

The third item to be hooked up was the electric dryer. There was plenty of space in
the garage but the 220 volt outlet was different from the pigtail on my dryer. So
as you can see I needed a plumber and an electrician. My only source for a
recommendation came from a friend we had known for several years and who was in the process
of building his own home. However those craftsmen hadn’t done any work for my friend
at that time, as I found out later.

My friend made the contacts and all three of them came to the house to give me an
estimate. The price for the job and the day it was to be done was agreed upon. The
first thing the plumber did, when he started the job, was to relocate the utility
sink outside behind the garage, a distance of about 12′. The washing machine was now
an easy hook-up.

The dishwasher was next. In watching him uncrate the machine, something told me he
had never installed a dishwasher before. I questioned him several times but he
insisted he knew what he was doing. As I continued to watch the uncrating process, he
was trying to remove the sound/heat padding which surrounded the machine. He thought
it was packing material! As much as I kept mentioning the installation instructions
to him, he never once referred to them.

The water supply from the sink to the dishwasher is done with copper tubing. This
“experienced” plumber purchased tubing so large in diameter that he found it
impossible to coil it up behind the dishwasher. Finally, he and the electrician, who was
helping at this time, realized he bought, or should I say, I bought the wrong size.

After we purchased the correct tubing the water line was properly installed. The
electrician finished wiring his part of the installation. As they slowly pushed the
dishwasher into place, I was saying to myself, “It’s almost finished!”, when “snap,
crackle, pop”, sparks came flying out from under the dishwasher which quickly popped
the circuit breaker. It seems the electrician failed to properly cover the exposed
wires which dragged on the floor and in to a puddle of water the plumber didn’t wipe

Now for the big test! Things went from bad to worse! The only thing the dishwasher
would do was fill. Period! While they spent considerable time troubleshooting it
was discovered the plumber hooked up cold water instead of hot water to the
dishwasher. This he corrected, but no matter what they did the dishwasher never worked.
Maytag factory trained technicians failed to get it working. This was a top of the
line dishwasher form the US that no one in Jamaica or the Maytag Corp in the US could
fix. The end result was Maytag exchanged this top of the line dishwasher for the
bottom of the line dishwasher which is the only model available in Jamaica.

Remember the sink the plumber relocated? Instead of hooking up the one faucet to
cold water as he was instructed, he connected it to the hot water line! I don’t know
about anywhere else but in Jamaica there are two different sizes of PVC pipe. Any
“experienced” plumber should know the difference.

The electrician direct wired the dryer to the outlet, which does have an off/on
switch. His work was better than the plumber’s but the volt meter he used for testing
was a porcelain light fixture, common in older homes, with 2 wires attached and a
light bulb inserted in the socket.

This was the first of very few problems I have had with Jamaican craftsmen. The
lesson I learned from this experience was that all of the craftsmen not obtained from
the phone book are most likely unlicensed and learned their trade from working
alongside other craftsmen who probably learned it the same way.

This article wasn’t very flattering to those honest hardworking people who are
trying to make a living for themselves. Next month, I will report on several very
positive experiences dealing with different types of craftsmen. By the way, my friend
never did use either of those two men, and yes, he is still my friend.

About the author

John Casey