Cayman’s Gender Affairs Minister said last week there would be no real compliance costs for local business if the recently proposed Gender Equality Bill, 2011, is passed into law later this year by the Legislative Assembly.
Minister Mike Adam said he expects the measure to come up for a vote during the September sitting of the LA. Although the schedule is subject to change, LA members are expected to meet for one day in early August and then resume meeting around the first week of September.
Mr. Adam’s statement comes about a week after a number of local business groups blasted the current draft of the Gender Equality Bill and urged the government to withdraw and redraft the measure.
“The bill, as drafted, will increase the cost of doing business and adds more red tape at a time when businesses are struggling to keep their costs under control,” Chamber President Jim O’Neill said last week.
“We fear that it may hinder employment and add to employers’ costs as they endeavour to implement it,” read a letter sent to the government and signed by Cayman Islands Law Society President Charles Jennings. “At [a] time of high unemployment … every effort should be made to encourage hiring.”
A statement released by Minister Adam on Wednesday said the “spirit of the law” is to promote nondiscriminatory practices based on gender, not to impose some sort of quotas on hiring.
“Since there is virtually nothing that businesses have to do other than ensure they do not discriminate, there really are no compliance costs,” the minister’s statement read.
Mr. Adam said the bill would pave the way toward Cayman joining 187 countries that have ratified the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. However, he also said the proposal, as written, was not gender-specific.
“It is undeniable that discrimination against women is a feature of the modern Caymanian workplace,” he said. “Less noted is the kind of discrimination that men face … in terms of the kinds of jobs for which they may be considered, or inequitable treatment based upon their marital status.
“Our objective with this bill is to address and redress the inequalities that so many women face, but also to ensure that in the future there are equal opportunities for our sons, as well as our daughters.”
The bill makes it illegal for anyone to discriminate in hiring, pay or workplace opportunity on the basis of a person’s gender, with a few exceptions based on the type of job sought.
“A person discriminates against another person …. if the person makes …. any distinction exclusion or preference, the intent or effect of which is to nullify or impair equality of opportunity or treatment in any employment or occupation,” the bill reads.
The grounds for discrimination referred to in the law include the person’s sex, marital status, whether or not they are pregnant, or any other characteristic which pertains to gender. The bill applies to both the recruitment process through job advertisements, interviews and deciding who should be employed, as well as in the terms and conditions of employment, promotion and termination of employment. However, those protections do not apply to employment “for the purposes of a private household” or by “a private educational authority”, according to the proposed legislation.
Religious bodies and certain charitable activities are also exempted from provisions of the Gender Equality Bill.
Also, the bill does allow discriminatory hiring practices based on gender in special situations; for instance if the essential nature of the job calls for a man or woman for reasons of physique or if the person is likely to have physical contact with individuals of the opposite sex. Another exemption to the law is given if the business establishment or facility requires a person of a certain gender to maintain the “essential character” of the establishment.