Cayman Islands Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin said Friday that government unemployment numbers significantly understated the problems being faced by out-of-work Caymanians.
According to figures contained in the government’s Strategic Policy Statement, Cayman Islands unemployment stood at 6.7 per cent for the first half of 2011.
However, Mr. McLaughlin said he thinks that figure was closer 18 per cent unemployment for Caymanians.
The total unemployment figures estimated by the government Economics and Statistics Office and reported each year in a labour survey include unemployment numbers for everyone working in the Islands. Historically, unemployment figures for non-Caymanian workers have been quite low – between 1 and 2 per cent – since most foreign workers are not allowed to stay in Cayman if they are not employed and do not possess some form of permanent resident status. Permanent residents and spouses of Caymanians may be listed among the non-Caymanian unemployed.
When the figures for Caymanians are considered alone, the number is pushed several points higher. For 2009, Caymanian unemployment was estimated at 9.9 per cent. Exact figures for 2010 weren’t available, because census data collected by the government has not been released.
Mr. McLaughlin extrapolated his numbers by subtracting the total Cayman Islands workforce – some 33,463 according to a 2010 report of the labour force – and subtracting the number of work permit holders in the Islands; a number he put at about 20,000.
“I would hope we can presume that everyone on a work permit is employed,” he said. “That leaves, by my calculation, just over 13,000 Caymanians employed.”
The opposition leader said, with some 2,396 people listed as unemployed in the labour force, Caymanian unemployment would be around 18 per cent. However, it was not clear from the figures Mr. McLaughlin provided in the Legislative Assembly that all those listed as “unemployed” were Caymanians. The preliminary labour force report does not specify those figures.
The 2010 Preliminary Labour Force report, released in May, also does not provide a breakdown of Caymanian and non-Caymanian workers. By Mr. McLaughlin’s calculations, the 2010 workforce in the Cayman Islands would be divided into 40 per cent Caymanian and 60 per cent non-Caymanian workers.
That would be a much higher ratio of foreign workers than has previously been reported. The 2009 Labour Survey put the break down of Caymanian to non-Caymanian labour at 48 to 52 per cent, respectively.
Mr. McLaughlin thanked Premier McKeeva Bush for talking about problems with unemployment and crime in Cayman during the Premier’s Strategic Policy Statement to the assembly last week. He said the address let the country know “in clear and unambiguous terms how really bad things are”.
However, the opposition leader said most of the facts about crime and joblessness were not new to anyone living in Cayman.
“Everyone knows things are bad; everybody knows times are hard,” he said. “What all of us have been waiting for now for more than two and a half long years, was not a detailed analysis of how bad things are … but rather some indication, some pronouncements by the premier of what the government is doing and what it intends to do to improve the lot of those of us who live here.”
The opposition leader speculated during his response to the Strategic Policy Statement about whether some of the government’s earlier development plans – including the land swap agreement with the Dart group and the cruise berthing facility development in George Town – had been delayed by the United Kingdom as part the recently signed Framework for Fiscal Responsibility agreement.
Premier Bush has said that, while extended until March, negotiations on the berthing facility construction with China Harbour Engineering are going ahead. The premier also has vowed to continue the agreement with Dart, which includes moving Grand Cayman’s landfill out of George Town and relocating a section of West Bay Road along Seven Mile Beach.
Mr. Bush said his government has made great strides in improving “fiscal discipline” and fixing the budget shortfalls it was left by Mr. McLaughlin’s government in 2009.
“I have … presented my vision for the future, one that is filled with hope and promise, but one which clearly indicates that the government, the wider public sector and the private sector need to act in an effective partnership,” Mr. Bush said.
Mr. McLaughlin did not agree.
“Sadly, there was little said by the premier which would engender any confidence … any hope, provide any inspiration for the people of these Islands,” he said. “To simply come to the house and say this is a government that is committed to responsibility in times of austerity and this is how well we’ve done … is not enough.”