The government could introduce legislation covering a minimum wage by June, Premier McKeeva Bush said Monday.
Speaking at a press briefing during a break in a debate over amendments to the Labour Law, Mr. Bush said the issue of minimum wage was currently being discussed by his party caucus and he hoped legislation could be brought before Cabinet and the Legislative Assembly by June.
Mr. Bush was responding to an attempt by independent member for North Side Ezzard Miller to introduce a clause in the Labour Law for a $5-per-hour minimum wage during a debate on amendments to the law. Mr. Miller’s motion was later withdrawn at the committee stage of the debate after Speaker of the House Mary Lawrence ruled that, under parliamentary procedural rules, Mr. Miller’s motion was “incomplete” and not relevant to the specific amendments to the law being considered.
“When anyone comes to talk about this government not wanting to do a minimum wage, you’re talking absolutely nonsense. We are committed to it, we have been discussing it at our caucus. The minister [of Labour, Rolston Anglin] will be ready in due course, but we have to give him time to get through what he is doing,” said Mr. Bush, who described salaries in Cayman as “atrocious”.
Mr. Bush insisted that his government would not be forced into voting on the matter of minimum wage before it was ready to do so and said Mr. Miller’s motion had been improperly brought before the House.
The premier said the clerk and the Speaker of the House were wrong to have placed Mr. Miller’s motion on the agenda to be considered at committee stage of the meeting and that members should not have to vote on it.
He said the government could not make an undertaking that it would set a minimum wage of $5, and further research and discussion would be needed before deciding what the minimum wage would be. “The UDP and my government is committed to putting a minimum wage that is practical and reasonable and will work for the employer and the employee to their benefit and that hopefully will come before June or by June,” he said.
However, Mr. Miller pointed out during the debate on whether his motion should be included that he had brought similar motions on minimum wage twice before – during amendments to the Penal Code and the Immigration Law – and they had been voted down. He said that since the bill in question related to workers’ compensation and severance pay, the issue of a minimum wage was relevant.
Mr. Miller said he believed that his motion had been brought correctly and refused to withdraw it. His assertion that the motion had been properly brought before the committee was backed by members of the opposition.
“I am not withdrawing the bill,” he said, adding that he believed his bill amendments were related to the government’s amendment because a minimum wage would have an impact on what severance or compensation was paid to an employee.
He told the Speaker: “I think you and the clerk were right in allowing it… It is properly before this House. I do not accept the government’s position that I have brought anything here that is improper, incorrect or outside the bounds of standing orders… The government can’t now cop out of voting on this matter by saying that somebody else has erred in bringing this before the committee. This is properly before the committee in my view, and I’m not bailing them out this time.”
However, the issue ultimately did not come to a vote because Mrs. Lawrence, citing Erskine May, the UK’s handbook for parliamentary procedure, said Mr. Miller’s proposed amendment had not been properly brought because he should have brought an amendment to the schedule of the law, rather than as a separate clause to the bill, and that his amendment was outside the scope of the legislation being considered by the House.
The member for North Side said that while he did not understand what “schedule” the Speaker was referring to, he would accept her decision.
The amendments to the Labour Law, which were passed by members of the Legislative Assembly on Monday afternoon, abolish a cap on severance pay for workers who retire, are laid off or are unfairly dismissed.
Previously, employers were legally bound to pay one week’s pay for every year worked by a member of staff, with a limit of 12 weeks’ pay. The amended law stipulates that employers must pay severance for each year worked by the employee, regardless of how many years that person has been employed.
The legislation also eliminates caps on payments to retirees who worked for a company before the National Pensions Law was introduced more than 10 years ago. Mr. Anglin cited the example of a 76-year-old woman who was already past retirement age when the pensions law was introduced in 1998. “She was already [older than] 60 when the National Pensions Law came into force and had not been receiving 5 per cent contribution [toward her pension], but she is still employed. She has now gone beyond 12 years with the same employer, and so lifting this cap will be of benefit to her when she does retire one day,” he said.
He said the government had chosen to address the severance pay issue separately from other areas of the Labour Law because, while the government was currenting working on producing a White Paper on wide-ranging amendments to the Labour Law, “we ought not to have waited when there were some obvious and glaring issues such as this one”.
The Legislative Assembly will resume this morning (Wednesday).