A rather benign Private Member’s Motion led to claims from the Opposition that the government backbench had engaged in the political opportunistic blaming of expatriate workers in Cayman.
Backbench MLA Alfonso Wright brought the motion, which asked the government to consider conducting a manpower survey.
Mr. Wright said the motion was based on the fact that the Cayman Islands had on record more than 25,000 work permits; that a significant number of qualified Caymanians continued to have difficulty finding employment in their area of expertise; and that the Department of Employment Relations, the Education Department and the Immigration Department would all benefit from a register of qualified Caymanians.
Mr. Wright said Immigration records indicated there were 25,688 work permits on record in the Cayman Islands.
‘The higher paying jobs are mostly the ones controlled by expatriates,’ he said, noting that there were 696 work permits for accountants, 275 for attorneys and 786 for professional managers.
Mr. Wright said there were also 139 permits for air conditioning mechanics, which would be a good line of work for Caymanians, as would other occupations with large numbers of expatriate workers.
‘There are 70 work permits for barbers in this country,’ he pointed out. ‘That’s one [occupation] you don’t even have to go to school for.’
Mr. Wright said certain categories of jobs should be reserved for Caymanians, with no work permits issued for those occupations.
‘Boat captains is one of them I would like to see reserved for Caymanians,’ he said.
Mr. Wright said Caymanians needed to share in the prosperity of the country.
‘Caymanians are not feeling good about themselves,’ he said.
When Caymanians make complains to MLAs about unfair treatment at their workplace, they often ask the MLAs not to let the companies know they complained, Mr. Wright said.
‘If you make them know they complained, the HR managers will make it so difficult for them, they will have to leave and someone else will take the job; usually it is an expatriate they had in mind for the job.’
Government backbench MLA Osbourne Bodden said the motion was about ensuring the local people get a ‘share of the miracle economic success story called the Cayman Islands’. He said the motion was very serious and not political grandstanding.
‘It’s disheartening the number of people these days that say they’re having trouble finding work,’ he said.
Mr. Bodden said the manpower survey would allow the government to get a good understanding of where work permit holders are employed as well as where Caymanians were employed.
Giving an example of unfairness in the workplace, Mr. Bodden said Caymanians often trained expatriate workers to be their bosses who they then work under.
‘It eventually frustrates the Caymanian out of the job,’ he said.
Mr. Bodden said a lot of Caymanians are holding three jobs to make ends meet and that sometimes the reason for that is they are not making the kind of money they should be making on their primary job and if they were, they wouldn’t have to work two or three jobs.
The Department of Employment Relations sends hundreds of people out for jobs and only a handful of people are hired, Mr. Bodden said.
‘Don’t tell me there can’t be a ratio better than that,’ he said. ‘Something has to be wrong. Larger employers know how to manipulate the system so they keep the employees they want and not hire local people.’
Mr. Bodden said perhaps it was time to say ‘enough is enough’ and to stop the granting of work permits and use the people on the island.
‘Sometimes you have to make people do what you want them to do,’ he said.
Backbench MLA Lucille Seymour acknowledged that expatriates were needed to fill jobs, but that having more than 25,000 work permit holders was an issue.
‘We have to ensure that our population… eats the fat of the land and are happy,’ she said.
‘Most people in the banks on Friday are expats, which tells us that they’re making money here,’ she said, adding that they are often seen happily counting up to 20 $100 bills in the bank.
‘If you follow them, they will go to various money-grams and send their families money and that is one happy family that gets that money. But are our own people happy?’
Ms Seymour spoke about the problem with education, and said it would take the government another three terms in office to ameliorate the current situation.
‘We have brilliant people in the financial industry,’ she said. ‘They’re smart; they’re running the show. But they don’t have a piece of paper [to show they have a university degree].’
Ms Seymour warned of what would happen if the situation did not change.
‘If Caymanians that are qualified can’t get jobs they’re qualified for…they will leave the country. Maybe they are already. That’s what we call brain drain; when you have indigenous people leaving their own country to go elsewhere.’
Cabinet Minister Alden McLaughlin said it has always been a difficult exercise to balance the needs of the employers – who are looking for the best skill sets and attitudes at the best price – with the needs of the people to be employed.
He said that some Caymanians had unrealistic expectations that they could rise to the top of organisations without first getting the necessary on-the-job experience, applying themselves and developing the kind of work ethic needed.
‘Government is expected to make everything right,’ he said.
There were some things government could do to address what Mr. McLaughlin called ‘aggravating issues’.
Mr. McLaughlin said that unless more ways were found for more Caymanians to take advantage of the economic opportunities Cayman had to offer, the social harmony that exists here would erode.
‘We have to ensure that our people have every opportunity to obtain the best education and skill sets to make them marketable and attractive to employers.’
He warned, though, that it would take many years before the investments currently being made in the education system would pay true dividends.
Although he acknowledge the need for a national manpower survey, Mr. McLaughlin said an exercise of that scope would take time to plan and implement, and it would probably have to happen in conjunction with the 2010 census.
West Bay MLA Rolston Anglin called the comments from the government backbench un-Christian, dangerous and representative of a worrying new culture of complaining and blaming others in Cayman.
‘To continue to get up with that rhetoric is wholly irresponsible of any elected member in this country,’ Mr. Anglin said. ‘This is 2008 and you should be past it!’
He said some PPM legislators would have people believe that all the problems Caymanians face could be simply heaped at the door of expatriate workers.
‘This rhetoric that we continue to hear in these chambers can do nothing to help these Cayman Islands. It can’t help. That sort of rhetoric can only hurt,’ he said.
‘We know – every member of this house knows – that we have a unique economy in the sense that we have close to 100 per cent more jobs … than we have people to fill them.’
Mr. Anglin questioned how the government members could complain about expatriate workers remitting money back to their native countries when Caymanian seafarers had done the same thing in generations past to build the country.
‘They were the expats somewhere; it was them sending their allotments home. It was them earning money outside this country and sending it home that helped to build this country,’ he said.
‘So because a person lives and works in Cayman and sends their money to their place of origin to build it up, is that a bad thing? Where is the godliness and Christianity that we are supposed to have?’
Mr. Anglin said he agreed with the sprit and objects of the motion and said every able-bodied Caymanian must be given the opportunity to maximise his or her potential, pointing out that he has been urging a manpower survey in the house since he arrived in 2002.
‘In Cayman, as small as we are, we have certainly played our part in this region and this hemisphere in providing an economy and a sense of hospitality that have allowed not only Caymanians to benefit, but other people to help as well. If we should become so begrudgeful that we are going to create animosity and hatred in our heart because of that – I don’t think that is wise.
‘Firstly, it is not right to live that way as a human being. Secondly, if we look at the economy that we built, the Caymanians that have businesses and benefit greatly from this economy have benefited because this economy has increased, because this population has increased so rapidly.’
Mr. Anglin questioned the sincerity of the motion, pointing out that he had been urging the Government to carry out a manpower survey since they came to office.
‘I find it quite alarming that in 2008, we get what … seems to be one of those feel good private members motions. One that one would want to ensure can be included on a resume that is called a manifesto, so that he could get up and say ‘I moved this motion’,’ he said.
Mr. Anglin said the tenor of some comments by PPM backbenchers seemed representative of a worrying culture of ungratefulness, blame and complaint.
‘…The rhetoric of MLA’s … has caused people that are here currently, in the finance industry … to really think long and hard about what they do here …
‘We can’t be running around with all this anti-foreigner rhetoric that is going to make people start to feel uncomfortable, start to make people say to themselves, ‘do I want to stay here or should we move back onshore?’; should we move [business] back to San Francisco or Dublin.
‘We can’t kill the goose that is laying the golden egg,’ he said. ‘For every company that we chase away, there goes opportunities for Caymanians.
‘I want to see Caymanians reach the top, but I’d much rather people be coming to me to talk … if they are hitting a glass ceiling, than coming to me because their institution has picked up roots and left the islands.’