Government pledged to look into how it can provide more employment opportunities for senior citizens during a Legislative Assembly meeting last week.
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts gave the commitment after George Town MLA Lucille Seymour brought a Private Members Motion on the issue.
‘A lot of people that come to me cannot get work, particularly after the age of 45, because they are not equipped to handle this global world that we now have,’ Ms Seymour told the house.
‘Some are barely literate and a lot don’t understand the technology – many have lost jobs because of the technology.’
Ms Seymour said it is an indictment on the country that employers are looking at people over the age of 45 and saying they are too old.
‘These people don’t want handouts, they want to work,’ she said.
Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush asked the Government to take the motion further by including both the public and private sectors in their inquiries. He complained that too many people are being forced to retire from the Civil Service when they reach the retirement age of 60, with many then rehired on individual contracts that pay less.
Government members unanimously agreed to Mr. Bush’s amendment, with Minister responsible for Employment Alden McLaughlin saying the Government is happy to consider Mr. Bush’s concerns as part of its inquiries.
Mr. Bush told the house he has received complaints from bus wardens who were asked to retire when they reached the age of 60 and were then rehired on one-year contracts that paid only $400 per month.
‘This cannot be right at a time when the cost of living is so high. Some still have mortgages to pay off.’ He said most would be lucky if they could find another job.
Mr. Tibbetts said the problem is one that the Government is anxious to look at, but cautioned members there are a number of difficult issues to address.
In light of the retirement age being 60, he asked how a government can force people, through legislation, to rehire people that may no longer be performing up to scratch.
‘In the private sector, there is no legislation you can create, except for [laws dealing with] downright discrimination, that says you have to employ people of a particular age. That’s where the difficulty lies.’
He pointed out that employers would naturally have concerns with older people claiming more on health insurance. It is also difficult for employers hiring older citizens to acquire health insurance for them, he said.
‘The Government is anxious to look at this but I just can’t clearly state the path forward; the end result,’ he said.
Continuing the debate, Tourism Minister Charles Clifford said the Go East initiative envisaged providing employment opportunities to seniors in the Eastern districts by making them available to tourists wanting to know more of Cayman’s yesteryear.
‘This will provide tourists with an authentic experience and help senior citizens at the same time,’ he said.
George Town MLA Alfonso Wright spoke of the importance of ensuring seniors remain as active and productive as they can, warning their health can deteriorate rapidly when they don’t have something to stimulate their lives.
Bodden Town MLA Osbourne Bodden, who seconded the motion, said the issue is particularly worrying when it involves people who don’t have much pension to speak of, because of pension laws only having come into effect in 1999.
He said placing more seniors in jobs will reduce their need for welfare payments and will reduce the country’s healthcare costs.
East End MLA Arden McLean highlighted the reality of an ageing population. ‘There is a need for us to pay attention to their situation,’ he said.
Since coming to his post in 2005, he said he has insisted that all older people in his ministry stay on working after the age of 60 if they are capable of doing the work.
He said seniors have a wealth of experience – and a strong worth ethic – that the future generation can benefit from.
Bring the debate to a close, Ms Seymour called for ‘re-tooling’ to increase employment opportunities for seniors. She vowed the debate was not merely paying lip service to the issue.
‘This is about protecting the Caymanian people. We talk so much; let’s put our money where our mouth is’