In an open letter to the governor and deputy governor, the Cayman Islands Civil Service Association president James Watler queried the legality of changing the terms of civil servants’ contracts unilaterally.
“We assume, from previous rounds of budget discussions, that the government is again taking advice on the legality of unilaterally voiding the mutually agreed contracts of thousands of employees. We expect that these reviews will, again, show that such unilateral actions are wrong and expose the government to serious liability,” Mr. Watler said in a letter addressed to Governor Duncan Taylor and Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, dated Sunday, 29 July, which was released to the press on Monday afternoon.
Mr. Watler said the human impacts of the government’s proposals outweighed the potential legal implications. “We must ask whether any assessment has been done of the very real economic impact these changes will have on civil servants and their families? The Management Council [of the Civil Service Association] cannot ignore the realities facing its members who are already struggling against the ever increasing cost of living and for whom these proposals have already created significant uncertainty and anxiety,” he said.
Premier McKeeva Bush announced last week that the government plans to introduce a payroll tax on expatriates and that civil servants would begin paying contributions towards healthcare and pensions as part of the 2012/2013 budget cutbacks.
“It is unfortunate that prior to this point, there was no opportunity for discussion of these proposals,” said Mr. Watler. “This has been compounded by the lack of clarity and specificity in various media reports, which have in some instances been confusing.”
The Civil Servants Association is requesting the release of “all alternative cost ‘saving’ and revenue ‘generation’ methods which relate to the benefits and terms of employment of the Civil Service, not just the few pension and health care taxes so far identified in public”.
Mr. Watler said that members of the civil service association wanted to know what amount of the past service pension liability the government would fund this year.
He said members were heartened to learn that government employees on open term contracts who advance positions, move within the civil service or whose contract of service otherwise changes, would not have to pay a pension contribution. However, Mr. Watler pointed out that if the pension contribution requirement applied to staff on fixed-term contracts, “this may lead to some supervising staff being paid less than open contract subordinates and could create two pay scales within the Service, one for those paying the pensions surcharge and one for other staff, which we know has been a point of objection in the past”.
He described as “disappointing” the announcement regarding civil servants paying towards healthcare costs, despite this being the subject of long-standing discussions between the Civil Service Association and the government.
“As we have stated many times in the past, the Service is open to discussion on health insurance, but only if it includes some form of choice of health care provider. Whether those discussions should also include choice of health insurer or not is also open as it must be recognised that alternative insurance providers may be able to provide better cost-effective access to health care without reducing existing benefits,” Mr. Watler said in the letter.
He also questioned if civil servants would be allowed to remove themselves from the Civil Service CINICO rolls and get insurance from a private provider.
For more on this story, read Wednesday’s Caymanian Compass.