Taxi, tour bus and other public transportation company owners may now employ non-Caymanian drivers in their businesses, as long as no suitable Caymanian driver is found to fill the post, according to new provisions in the Traffic Law, 2011.
The new regulations, revealed last week, put to rest a months-long controversy over the intention of the law governing public transit vehicles.
In April, Cayman Islands Cabinet members said only Caymanians should be allowed to “operate” tour buses under the territory’s law.
“[Prior to now] ‘operator’ was defined as being the owner [of the public transit vehicle] … and then those individuals had other nationalities driving the tour buses,” said then-Tourism Minister Cline Glidden Jr.
According to tour industry officials, regulations in the Traffic Law have defined “operator” as a Caymanian of at least 21 years old. Earlier this year, government officials looked at the issue and determined that “operator” meant anyone in control of the bus, which had what Mr. Glidden said was the “unintended consequence” that only Caymanians could drive the tour buses.
As it turns out, that was what the law intended.
“There was a request as to whether the government would change that,” Mr. Glidden said. ”After consideration, the government, especially due to the unemployment situation, took a decision not to change that provision in the law, but to discuss with the operators their challenges and to see if we could find a way … to incentivize the operators to actually hire many of the Caymanians who are qualified.”
The interpretation of the law caused an uproar among several local tour bus companies, including Nigel Mitten of Majestic Tours.
“It really restricts who we can hire as it also excludes us from hiring not only a person on a work permit, but also persons married to Caymanians and persons with permanent residence. Up until two weeks ago, [the government’s National Workforce Development Agency] has been sending transportation operators letters saying ‘sorry, there’s no one registered with us.’
“What are we to do, shut down our business?”
The regulations to the Traffic Law, 2011, have been rewritten as follows: “Except in the case of an application to drive a taxi – (i) [the operator] shall provide the Public Transportation Board with satisfactory evidence that every person employed by him to drive the vehicle, is a Caymanian; or (ii) if a non-Caymanian is employed by him to drive the vehicle, he shall provide the board with satisfactory evidence that his employment of that non-Caymanian is in compliance with the Immigration Law.”
Mr. Mitten said last week that industry officials were pleased at the changes and were also happy that the government had removed some of the “red tape” that had prevented local companies from hiring Caymanian drivers.
“One such example is that the general knowledge exams that have to be passed by prospective drivers who want to work within the industry are now offered twice a week instead of once a week,” he said. “This has resulted in the ability to hire persons in a more timely fashion, whereas previously persons might have had to wait for weeks to start working after they had been offered the job.
“Many times, persons would get discouraged at the amount of time it took to take up employment and would move on to other areas of employment.”