Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin promised a “two-pronged approach” to resolve the territory’s problems with local unemployment Thursday afternoon during his first address to the Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative luncheon.
Revisions to the Immigration Law, set to go before the Legislative Assembly next month, are part of that plan. However, the premier cautioned that they were not in themselves employment legislation.
“I urge you as employers to participate in programs … to find Caymanians to fill the vacancies you may have in your businesses,” Mr. McLaughlin told an audience of hundreds at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. “If you can give the government the commitment to each employ at least one new Caymanian over the next six to nine months, this would go a long way to reducing unemployment.”
One opportunity looming to assist in getting an estimated 1,900 unemployed Caymanians into suitable jobs is the pending Dec. 9 deadline, where more than 1,500 Term Limit Exemption Permit holders will either have to apply for new work permits or depart.
Mr. McLaughlin said that deadline would help re-employ some Caymanians, but admitted that local citizens were not likely to apply for a number of the positions available.
“Over 900 are jobs as domestics, gardeners or caregivers … which Caymanians have generally expressed little interest in filling,” the premier said.
Just prior to Mr. McLaughlin’s address to the Chamber on Thursday, the board of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association sent out an “urgent” communication to its members, asking them to place work permit jobs coming up for renewal on a website for Caymanian job placement that CITA had created.
According to the two-page letter: “If we don’t do this, or if we are too slow or ineffective in getting real unemployed people into real jobs, our industry can expect to face further increasing pressure, rising criticism, greater difficulties and more refusals in applications for work permits and work permit renewals – even for those jobs that we feel certain there are absolutely no Caymanians available to fill or develop into that role.”
Premier McLaughlin, while appreciating the sentiment expressed in the letter, said the government was not threatening any local companies with being put out of business. He noted that the new immigration bill makes it a criminal offense for companies that do not disclose the fact that a Caymanian or permanent resident had applied for a work permit holder’s position.
Outgoing Chamber President Chris Duggan struck quite a different tone in addressing the audience at the Ritz-Carlton prior to introducing Premier McLaughlin.
“All businesses should be allowed to obtain the required labor that they need,” Mr. Duggan said. “We must not prevent employers from obtaining foreign workers [for jobs where no qualified Caymanian has applied].
“[Cayman’s] population has to grow and it will grow. Putting up roadblocks to hinder development in growth is not the answer.”
Premier McLaughlin pointed to several new initiatives, largely being driven by the private sector, which he expected to increase economic development in the coming years.
Plans to build a new cruise ship berthing facility in George Town and expand Owen Roberts International Airport would be presented to Cabinet next month, he said. In addition, plans for developing new hotels, including a Kimpton along Seven Mile Beach, a Conrad Hilton in Beach Bay and a hotel near the site of the Health City Cayman Islands development were proceeding at pace.
Mr. McLaughlin said Cayman Enterprise City’s special economic zone was also “beginning to live up to its potential,” with more than 80 companies now registered.
He said talks were continuing with the Dart group of companies to “rebalance” some of the aspects for the ForCayman Investment Alliance that had been agreed by the previous United Democratic Party government. The government had no firm plans for what would occur with the George Town landfill site.
He said the upcoming government budget would only include one new tax, the introduction of company directors fees similar to a proposal made – but not implemented – by the previous United Democratic Party government. Mr. McLaughlin did not provide any more specifics at the luncheon.
The government’s new full-year budget is expected to be presented to the Legislative Assembly by next Friday, Oct. 4.