Human resources authority considered

High-ranking members of both the Cayman Islands civil service and the private sector are mulling proposals to create a sort of ‘clearing house’ agency within the government that would handle all employment-related issues.

The so-called Human Resources Authority would tackle many jobs now handled separately by various entities within government, including the Immigration Department, the Department of Employment Relations, the National Pensions Office and the Cayman Islands Health Insurance Commission.

However, the sticking point with the idea — or one of them at least — appears to be the question of what agency would handle work permits, the documents legally required for foreign workers to take up employment in the private sector.

Right now, those permits are handled by the Immigration Department and two separate government-appointed boards.

Chief Immigration Officer and Deputy Chief Secretary designate Franz Manderson said moving that operation away from immigration officials might be more trouble than its worth.

‘The work permit part of immigration does take up a tremendous amount of my time as CIO,’ Mr. Manderson said, ‘however, moving that operation will be a huge undertaking.’

Mr. Manderson said that other Caribbean countries use their immigration departments to process work permits, and it works fine.

‘We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,’ he said.

Recently, the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce has raised concerns about immigration officers, whose primary role is border protection, becoming too involved in human resource issues. The Chamber supported moving some labour-related functions immigration handles to the Department of Employment Relations.

Employment Relations Director Lonny Tibbetts agreed that organising several government agencies under one roof would likely take some time to work out.

‘But there are a number of things that are in place that would make it viable,’ Mr. Tibbetts told a group of human resource professionals at the Marriott Beach Resort recently. ‘Anything that would ease some of Franz’s burden would be welcomed by us and the business community.’

Superintendent of Pensions Cyril Theriault said the move could cut down on the bureaucracy within government.

‘Why do we really need a supervisor of pensions?’ he asked, adding that if not all current government HR functions could be combined, at least some could.

For instance, Mr. Manderson said the Immigration Department currently processes Trade and Business licenses.

‘It’s not a natural fit for immigration and it’s not necessarily an immigration-related thing,’ he said.

Others were more cautious about the idea.

‘We’d have to be very careful about how we approached it,’ said Health Insurance Superintendent Mervyn Conolly. ‘On the surface it has merits, but each (category of human resources that would fall under the authority) have individual legislation.’

Cayman Islands Society of Human Resource Professionals President Phil Jackson said he was initially not in favour of a move toward a Human Resources Authority, which he felt was likely to create more expensive bureaucracy, not less.

‘I’ve worked in government,’ Mr. Jackson said. ‘I’ve seen where, once an authority is created, one of the first things that happens is salaries are driven up.

‘Having employment relations, pensions, health insurance, and immigration perhaps under one roof, maybe under a government ministry or something, might work. But unless the benefits would outweigh what happens now, why have it?’

Caymanian Compass reporter Alan Markoff contributed to this story.

Pullout: Recently, the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce has raised concerns about immigration officers, whose primary role is border protection, becoming too involved in human resource issues.

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