Department of Labour and Pensions hamstrung

Two senior positions vacant

The agency with responsibility for enforcing Cayman Islands employment and pensions laws is now without both of its deputy directors, following moves in the civil service hierarchy.  

The absence of the two key positions is making it difficult for the Department of Labour and Pensions to keep track of hundreds of cases involving delinquent payments into private sector retirement savings plans, as well as police allegations of violations of local labor laws, according to department director Mario Ebanks.  

“We really need to fill these positions,” Mr. Ebanks said last week. “There’s only so much you can do and still do it right.”  

The most recent vacancy involved the departure on March 31 of the department’s deputy director, Marlon Bodden, to the customs service. Mr. Bodden’s position is expected to be filled as per regular civil service recruitment processes. 

Mr. Ebanks has been acting pensions superintendent, in addition to his department director duties, since December 2012, when the pensions superintendent, Amy Wolliston, left that role.  

According to officials in the Ministry of Education, Employment and Gender Affairs, Wolliston has been reassigned to that ministry “working on special projects” that deal with pensions-related matters. The ministry has oversight responsibility for pensions matters.  

The special projects include the redrafting of the National Pensions Law that governs private sector pensions. The new law is expected to be presented to the Legislative Assembly sometime in 2016.  

As of June 30, 2013, a total of 1,144 business were listed as delinquent on payments to the private sector retirement system. Those businesses owed a total of $13.7 million to their current or former workers, according to Mr. Ebanks. 

Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams called the situation “a national crisis” in a report released to the press and the Legislative Assembly last October. 

“In recommendation 11 of the pensions report, I state ‘… staff at the National Pensions Office is largely willing and committed, but at present staffing levels, they simply cannot cope with the volume of work and be effective,’” Ms. Williams said Thursday. “Although at the time I was specifically referring to pensions inspectors, this applies to staffing at all levels concerning pensions, including senior management.  

“Any absence of staffing in a small team at whatever level will adversely impact productivity and effectiveness.”  

Following the release of Ms. Williams’s review, the National Pensions Office – which operates as the private sector pension regulator under the Department of Labour and Pensions – further reviewed some of the “backlogged” cases where companies owed workers pension payments. 

Of the 600 to 700 case files reviewed, Mr. Ebanks said only 378 were “valid,” meaning there were hundreds of duplicate or redundant files contained in the pensions office records. 

Among those files were six investigations that had become “statute barred,” in other words, at least five years had passed from the initial reporting of the non-payment offense and, therefore, the case could not be prosecuted. A handful of the cases reviewed by the National Pensions Office dated as far back as 1998. Another 52 cases were being “fast tracked”, so as to avoid the same thing occurring in the near future.  

“It will be some time until we get caught up with all of the backlog cases, including progressing some for prosecution,” Mr. Ebanks said. “We now have a more accurate position of where we are with respect to the backlogged cases.” 

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