Job losses, pay cuts feared

Civil Service Association gives wake up call

A stark warning from Cayman’s government employees association has followed hints from the head of the civil service last week that jobs may be on the line in the upcoming budget.

An e-mail sent to government workers last week by Cayman Islands Civil Service Association President James Watler didn’t pull punches when laying out what appeared to be bleak options in the 2009/10 fiscal year.

‘As it stands, the picture is very grim,’ Mr. Watler wrote to civil servants in the 29 July e-mail.

‘The possibility is that the following, or at least some or part of the following may take place within the civil service due to the deplorable state of the economy: lay offs – job cuts; reduced time, i.e. four day work week; as much as a 20 per cent reduction in salaries; take on additional responsibilities over and above normal requirements.’

The Civil Service Association scheduled an emergency meeting Thursday with all members and has invited Governor Stuart Jack, Chief Secretary Donovan Ebanks and other senior officials to attend.

Mr. Ebanks issued a memo several days before informing government workers about the possibility of job cuts and other cost saving measures.

According to Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush, the Cayman Islands government ended the last budget year on 30 June with nearly a $76 million operating deficit.

Legislative Assembly members recently approved an interim spending plan to take the Cayman Islands through the first four months of the new budget year, from 1 July to 31 October.

In a speech before the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce on 23 July, Mr. Bush said that interim plan would place the country into a further deficit spending position if nothing was changed.

‘During these four months, if earnings and expenditures continue at the same rate as existed at 30 June, we should expect a further deficit of $56.8 million,’ Mr. Bush said.

The Legislative Assembly is expected to meet in September to review a spending plan for the entire year.

Mr. Ebanks stated in his memo that the current situation could not simply be solved by borrowing money.

‘The government frankly does not have the money to continue to spend at the same level while revenues decline,’ Mr. Ebanks wrote in his 24 June circular to government employees.

Mr. Watler said, at the very least, government workers would be asked to go ‘over and beyond the norm.’

‘Don’t just give a dollar’s worth for a dollar’s pay, but endeavour to give a dollar and a half or two dollars instead,’ he wrote in the e-mail last week. ‘We would encourage our members to look at their personal finances at this time in preparation for the possibility that some form of cuts may be made to remuneration packages.’

The size of the Cayman Islands civil service has been a topic of discussion in recent years, and even some Cabinet ministers have recently wondered why their own ministries were employing so many people.

‘If you come in and find a ministry that has 30-plus people, and you find that every other ministry is 1/3 of your size, you may need to look at that ministry,’ Education Minister Rolston Anglin said in June. ‘I think not only the Ministry of Education, but the entire government should look at how efficient it can be.’

However, there is some recent evidence that decreasing the number of civil jobs does not necessarily equate to cost savings.

Although the growth in the civil service ranks slowed in 2008, the most recent year for which data is available, personnel costs in government still rose sharply.

The figures are noted in the government’s 2008 Annual Economic Report.

For the calendar year 2008, government personnel costs jumped nearly 15 per cent to $245.2 million when compared with 2007. However, civil service personnel actually declined from 3,843 in 2007 to 3,801 civil servants in 2008.

In 2006, there were 3,520 civil servants in government, according to the economic report.

‘As it stands, the picture is very grim.’ – CICSA President James Watler