John Gray project facing shutdown

Unless the government can pay the John Gray High School contractor an amount in arrears by Friday the project will shut down.

john gray construction

Construction workers prepare to leave the John Gray High School construction site on notice. Photo: Sherry Vanwey

At least 100 workers at the John Gray construction site were given notice of impending layoffs this past Friday.

Hunter Jones, the owner/director of the projects general contractor, Tom Jones International, said notice of the pending shutdown was given because of non-payment of amounts due on 11 September.

‘They were late on payment, but they have a seven-day grace period,’ Mr. Jones said, adding that the grace period ran out at 3pm on 18 September.

Tom Jones then issued a stop-work warning notice to the government.

‘Contractually, we have to put them on a seven-day notice,’ Mr. Jones said. ‘If we get no payment in seven days, work will stop. It’s not something we wanted to do, but to protect our company, we had to.’

Simultaneously, Tom Jones International and its subcontracting firms issued seven-day notices of layoffs to their employees.

Mr. Jones said his company would definitely layoff employees if the payment wasn’t made.

A sub-contractor on the site, Caribbean Mechanical (High School 2008) Ltd. – which is associated with the AndroGroup companies – will also layoff people on Friday unless payment is made, said its Chief Executive, Alan Roffey.

Its lay off notice was delivered by hand to employees on Friday. Mr. Roffey said the payment that has been missed was for works completed to the end of July 2009.

‘Obviously we have another larger invoice out for each school for August’s works and we are about to invoice for September,’ he said Saturday. ‘For {Caribbean Mechanical (High School 2008) Ltd. these add up to several millions of dollars because all of the major equipment such as switchgear, air handling units, booster pump sets, generators etc. are delivered or are reaching completion in manufacture.

‘CMHSL has laid out at least US$2 million in pre-payments for long-lead-time items that have not been reimbursed by the ministry these last three months or so, even though it was agreed up front that such pre-payments would be reimbursed through the regular monthly payment regime.’

Regardless of the situation, Tom Jones International and the subcontractors are expected to continue working through the end of this week regardless.

‘We will be there,’ said Mr. Roffey. ‘I’m telling my people that they have to work harder this week because morale will be down and people will be standing around in small groups talking about what’s going to happen.’

Minister of Education Rolston Anglin said he was confident Tom Jones International would get paid.

‘I’m sure that this is all going to work out,’ he said. ‘We’re working feverishly on the matter.’

Mr. Roffey also expressed confidence that the project would not shut down.

‘It hasn’t happened yet,’ he said. ‘But we had to give the notice [of layoffs] under the Labour Law.’

Section 10 of the Labour Law requires employers give at least seven days notice before laying-off any employee who is paid on a weekly basis.

Speaking broadly about the Cayman Island Government financial crisis, Mr. Roffey said it was unfair for construction workers to take a 100 per cent pay cut through a lay-off when civil servants weren’t willing to take any pay cuts at all.

‘I keep hearing about sharing the pain, but I’m not seeing it,’ he said, adding that the 51 of his company’s employees, 20 were Caymanian, six were married to Caymanians, 17 were expatriates and the rest had other immigration statuses.