Today’s Editorial January 20: Changing workforce

In his address to the Cayman Business Outlook conference on Wednesday, Fidelity Group CEO Anwer Sunderji noted that Cayman’s accounting firms have to search ‘far and wide’ for accountants these days.

Currently, there are accountants from South Africa, Kenya, the Philippines, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and from other Third World countries residing here, Mr. Sunderji said.

These accountants have replaced accountants from the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and elsewhere in the First World.

One contributing reason why Cayman has lost First World accountants is the high post-Ivan cost of living, which has made it more difficult for these people to maintain the quality of life they were used to.

In addition, the worldwide shortage of accountants also means they can earn higher salaries in their home countries or other places.

The new accountants have come from poorer countries, but they have not brought with them any real cost advantages, for they are paid substantially the same, Mr. Sunderji said.

While this reality has many ramifications when it comes to the threats of outsourcing and offshoring – which was the point of Mr. Sunderji’s address – it also has social and economic consequences that were left unsaid.

The replaced First World accountants were not high income earners by Cayman’s standards, but they were used to higher standards of living than the new Third World accountants. This shift can have damaging effects on Cayman’s economy.

Mr. Sunderji noted that Americans, Canadians and Europeans were ‘masters of consumption’. People from these countries are willing to spend a substantial portion of their incomes on dining out, creature comforts and socialising.

Third Worlders, on the other hand, have different priorities here. Their stay in Cayman is less about a pleasurable life experience and more about earning money that will give them opportunities when they return to their homeland.

In addition, the Third Worlders are bringing with them a culture that is less familiar – and more difficult to assimilate in a small place like Cayman – than that of First Worlders.

The phenomenon is not restricted to accountants. Third World workers are increasing in Cayman in other professions as well.

High costs of living, rising crime and flaring nationalistic animosities, are making Cayman a less attractive place to work for many First Worlders.

And with seven-year term limits, there’s not much incentive for the ones currently here to assimilate into the culture, support the local economy, or to even stay here.

As the Government reviews the Immigration Law and the rollover and exempted employee policies contained within it, the long-term social and economic ramifications of a shift from a First World to Third World expatriate workforce must be considered.

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