Immigration Chief Franz Manderson has put dodgy employers on notice that they will be rooted out and denied work permits under a new immigration regime that was approved last week.
Mr. Manderson was speaking at a forum held for Jamaicans workers Thursday night that also featured leading officials from the Pensions Office, the Health Insurance Commission, the Department of Employment Relations and the Health Services Authority.
‘I want to assure you that in the coming months, we will have a system in place that provides the type of protection that you so rightly deserve,’ Mr. Manderson said.
He was responding to a woman that told a crowd of about 400 she knows of too many Jamaican men being exploited by employers that aren’t paying health insurance, pension and other legally required benefits.
‘There are a lot of men hurting on this island,’ the woman said. ‘They are intimidated because they don’t want to lose their jobs; they have children back home and they have to take care of their responsibilities.
‘Their backs are against the wall. I am begging you, please … I am tired of it,’ she said.
Under the new regulations that passed the Legislative Assembly last week, the Immigration Department will be responsible for processing most work permit applications, rather than the time-strained Work Permits Board.
That will mean Immigration staff can spend more time assessing the merits of work permit applications, Mr. Manderson said.
The new regime will also create a system of pre-qualification for employers wanting work permits that will draw together the resources of immigration, pension, health insurance and employment relations agencies.
Mr. Manderson said the system will ‘ensure we don’t issue a license to employ without [the employer] having satisfied us, 100 per cent, that they have pensions; health insurance; that they have signed up with the labour office … everything that a normal genuine employer would have.’
Mr. Manderson said the system will help his department root out unscrupulous employers.
‘It means we will simply stop issuing work permits to employers who have been shown to not be treating their employees fairly.’
Mr. Manderson was an in-demand figure throughout the evening, organised by the Jamaican Consular Office, which packed out the St. George’s Anglican Church Hall and left some straining to hear from the hallway.
Superintendent of Health Insurance, Mervyn Conolly, told the meeting it is clear there are too many employers not doing the right thing when it comes to providing health insurance to workers.
‘We believe there are 12,000 to 15,000 people residing in Cayman that don’t have health insurance and that is really unacceptable,’ he said.
‘It doesn’t make a difference whether you are a skilled employee, semi-skilled or professional; employees in the Cayman Islands must have health insurance – that’s the law.’
Mr. Connolly called on workers that are being short changed to let his department know.
While he understands making a complaint can put an employee’s job at risk, Mr. Connolly said initial investigations can proceed without that information being revealed to the employer.
‘However, for us to efficiently and effectively pursue your complaint, when we approach the employer or insurance company, we need something to go to them with,’ he said.
Mr. Connolly also discussed the standard health insurance plan – the minimum plan employers are required to provide under the law – which mandates only $25,000 in care per incident.
Earlier, Health Services Authority Acting CEO Lizzette Yearwood outlined some of the huge costs that can be involved in emergency overseas care.
She said averages of 20 to 25 people are air-lifted off-island every month, at a cost of $10,000 to $30,000 each time. Pregnant mothers needing to be airlifted off-island for the birth of a premature baby can be facing an upfront guarantee up to $500,000, she said.
‘You need to know your insurance benefits. Some people, if they have this insurance card, they have a false sense of security,’ Ms Yearwood said.
‘You never know when that emergency might be you.’
Mr. Connolly said his office has recommended a host of changes to the standard plan, now over 10 years old, including an increase in the mandated coverage per incident of care from $25,000 to $100,000. He is awaiting a response on the plan Health Minister, Anthony Eden.
‘I think we all recognise that that plan of benefits does not meet today’s needs,’ he said.
Jamaicans at the meeting were also keen to quiz Superintendent of Pensions, Cyril Theriault, on why Cayman’s pension law does not allow workers to cash out their entitlements when they leave the island.
‘If there is a law that says you have to leave the country after seven years, I personally think … why would you leave your cash here,’ said one man.
Mr. Theriault explained that Cayman’s pension system is set up as a pension plan – not a savings plan.
He explained there are three main ways to collect pension funds when leaving Cayman – they can be transferred to a retirement fund in another jurisdiction; they can be cashed out when someone reaches retirement age, or they can be collected two years after leaving the Cayman Islands.
‘There is very limited access to getting refunds – getting actually money in your hands, unless you have reached retirement age,’ he explained.
As with health insurance, complaints about pension not being properly paid can be made confidentially, Mr. Theriault explained, but only to a certain point.
‘If the complaint leads to court action in the Cayman Islands, then we need witnesses and if we don’t have witnesses, chances are the complaint is not going to proceed.’
Mr. Theriault urged employees to know their rights when it comes to pensions. ‘You have a right to a pension plan. You also have to pay attention to what your payroll deductions are and that they are going where they are supposed to be going.’
After the meeting, Honorary Jamaican Consul, Robert Hamaty said he was pleased leading government figures had made the effort to come out to inform his people about their rights and responsibilities in the Cayman Islands.
‘The Jamaican community has the largest percentage of work permit holders and probably the largest amount of people that fall under the basic health insurance plan.’ he said.
‘Quite a few problems emerge at our consular office do with air ambulance and emergencies.
‘There are also pension and immigration concerns, so we thought the ideal situation was to have a forum so that people could actually directly address the departments,’ he said.
‘The heads of the departments came out to address the issues, which was very respectful and we thank them very much.’