A legislative proposal asking the ruling Progressives government to accept a $5 per hour minimum wage was defeated Wednesday, with all government members and backbenchers opposing it.
However, Employment Minister Tara Rivers said during the debate on the private members’ motion that the government would bring forward a proposal for a minimum wage at an unspecified rate for consideration under the current provisions of the Cayman Islands Labour Law. Those provisions include the formation of a Minimum Wage Advisory Committee to recommend a base wage rate.
Ms. Rivers said the government felt that passing a minimum wage without conducting proper research into the matter would be reckless.
“As minister of employment, I am not interested in putting forward a regime without knowing how this will be implemented,” Ms. Rivers said during the debate on North Side MLA Ezzard Miller’s motion for the base wage rate. “[It is] incumbent on this government to try to determine what the potential effects of introducing a minimum wage would have on the [private] sector.”
Mr. Miller, who has put forward the same motion backing a $5 per hour minimum wage for Cayman before, said he was unsure whether that $5 figure was “correct,” but he said it was a place to start and “get it done.”
“Can we ever study this long enough or hard enough to absolutely calculate the correct amount?” Mr. Miller asked. “I don’t think we can.”
A minimum wage, Mr. Miller said, would be a step in the direction of preventing employers from “taking advantage of people from other countries with lower income levels.”
“[Employers] pay them these ridiculously low wages, which all of us know nobody can live reasonably well in this country receiving $2 and $3 per hour, and often having to work nine, 10, 12-hour days,” Mr. Miller said.
Ms. Rivers questioned, with the current cost of living in Cayman, what the implementation of a $5 per hour minimum wage would achieve. She also wondered what such a proposal might cost in the short to medium term.
“What are the risks posed to a minimum wage as it relates to jobs being lost?” she asked, inferring that some companies would lay off lower wage workers if a minimum wage were introduced.
“If you are making $3 an hour and the cost of milk is $5, if by introducing a minimum wage of $5 an hour and all of sudden the cost of milk increases at the till to $7, are you any better off?” she said.
Mr. Miller, who was the only Member of the Legislative Assembly to debate his motion, aside from Ms. Rivers, said he’d heard similar talk before from previous education minister and current Premier Alden McLaughlin, who supported the implementation of a minimum wage during the People’s Progressive Movement’s term between 2005 and 2009.
“I am still committed to making a number of changes to the present Labour Law, which is now 20-odd years old. The introduction of a minimum wage is among them,” Mr. McLaughlin was quoted by the Caymanian Compass as saying in May 2008.
The National Assessment of Living Conditions report, completed around the same time, recommended the establishment of a minimum wage, but it did not state what that rate should be.
Although he did not speak on it in the assembly Wednesday, Mr. McLaughlin had stated his government’s intent regarding minimum wage proposals last week during the Cayman Economic Outlook forum.
“We will [implement a minimum wage] only on the basis of a proper assessment and advice,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “We will proceed with care.”
All 12 voting members of the Progressives-led government, including backbencher independents Roy McTaggart and Winston Connolly, voted against Mr. Miller’s private members motion. Speaker of the House Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, who is also a member of the government, does not get to vote on matters before the Legislative Assembly.
Voting for the measure were Mr. Miller and East End MLA Arden McLean. Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, whose previous United Democratic Party government passed a similar motion proposed by Mr. Miller and didn’t implement it, voted for the $5 minimum wage. His colleagues Bernie Bush and Capt. Eugene Ebanks also supported it.