Health City: One solution to unemployment

Finding the solution to a serious problem will sometimes require a little bending of the rules.

Local businessman and Health City Cayman Islands partner Gene Thompson appears to appreciate the need for that kind of flexibility when it comes to employing construction workers. 

“You can come and work on my site without any police clearance. And we will not do random drug tests before you come to work or onsite,” Mr. Thompson said recently, referring to the ongoing construction of Dr. Devi Shetty’s 140-bed hospital in East End, a project that employed 174 Caymanians as of last week. 

Such an approach might be considered controversial. However, we point out that it was exactly what was recommended by the Canadian Institute of Public Administration in a report the group completed on the Cayman Islands prison system last year. 

“Many [stakeholder] groups identified the stigma attached to a criminal record and the challenges for offenders to secure employment upon release from prison,” the institute’s review noted. “If offenders are not able to secure employment, the likelihood of their re-offending is significantly higher.”  

An obvious barrier to employment would be a criminal record, which is now required to be disclosed on all government and private sector job applications in the Cayman Islands. 

“While this [disclosure] is necessary for jobs with certain security requirements and jobs involving work with children/youth, it should cease to be a standard practice for other positions,” the Canadian institute report opined, recommending that the prison refocus its efforts on rehabilitative efforts. 

At the risk of stating the obvious, some jobs are simply not ideal for employing criminal offenders who have been convicted of crimes like burglary, drugs and theft. Positions of trust that involve managing financial accounts or dealing with high-dollar sales and marketing clients are probably going to remain out of reach for ex-convicts. 

However, we see no reason those offenders should be banned from gainful employment anywhere in the Cayman Islands for the rest of their lives. The reality is that many of them have nowhere else to go and may find other, much less useful, ways to spend their time that might well end with another taxpayer-funded trip to Her Majesty’s Prison at Northward. 

Moreover, there is no reason convicted individuals – as long as they stay clean and trouble-free while on the job – cannot work in the construction industry. If one takes the time to visit Northward and observe the skills displayed by some of the inmates in various work programmes, we believe the observer would be quite surprised at the quality work some of these men can produce. 

According to statements made back in April, Mr. Thompson can attest to that. His hospital project foreman said in April that the Caymanian workers were among some of the best employees he’s ever encountered on a job site. 

One of the workers at the site gave a possible reason for that: “Once you get a job, you got to hold on to it. It was hard going out there looking for jobs.”  

Ex-convicts won’t be a good fit for every job in the Cayman Islands, but we applaud Health City Cayman Islands, and Mr. Thompson in particular, for giving some of them a chance to do meaningful work again.