Lawmakers question workforce ‘job finding’ system

Opposition members of the Legislative Assembly are questioning what government hopes to achieve with a “voluntary” jobs location and verification system set up online through the National Workforce Development Agency.

Employment Minister Tara Rivers recently announced the launch of the jobs database, where employers can register and immigration officials can obtain information to confirm that Caymanian job seekers were referred to positions. The system also states why a Caymanian’s application was refused.

Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush on Thursday asked how the workforce agency would be able to discern whether information provided by a company was true.

Why register?

North Side MLA Ezzard Miller wondered why any employer who avoids requirements in the Immigration Law would choose to register with such a database.

“The minister makes clear that there is no legal requirement for any employer to follow this process,” Mr. Miller said. “Can the minister say if and when the Immigration Law … will be amended to mandate and legally require this process to be followed?

“Otherwise, this is just a waste of paper and ink.”

Challenging

Minister Rivers acknowledged that the issue of employers providing information about internal hiring processes has always been a challenge.

“Unfortunately, we have to recognize that the information provided, because there’s no income tax reporting regime … that information is very much on an honor basis,” she said.

In response to Mr. Miller’s question, Ms. Rivers said the system should ensure that all jobs are registered.

Collaboration

“How does the government intend to enforce this process if it does not have the legal support?” Mr. Miller asked.

Ms. Rivers said the Workforce Development Agency system is meant to ensure the “right hand knows what the left hand is doing” – in other words, to have collaboration between immigration and the workforce agency.

“Have somebody directly available from the NWDA present at [immigration] board meetings,” she said. “So if a company does not choose to register with the NWDA, … [immigration] will be able to see whether a Caymanian has or has not been registered [for a job].”

East End MLA Arden McLean asked whether this was a government effort to separate labor regulation issues from the Immigration Department, making it a border control agency rather than government’s ad hoc human resources regulator.

“In other jurisdictions, such as Canada, the [workforce] agency is a part of [job] interviews. Thereby, there’s no need to rely upon the prospective employer to give reasons why,” Mr. McLean said. “I don’t trust many of these prospective employers.”

Immigration Law changes

Further changes to the Immigration Law may be recommended in “phase two” of the government’s review of the work permit system used to bring foreign labor in to fill jobs that local residents cannot or will not perform.

However, the timing of the changes – initially proposed to go before the Legislative Assembly in May – will likely have to be pushed back.

“Phase two of the immigration reforms will focus on the work permit system, in particular the relationship between the granting of work permits and unemployment amongst Caymanians,” a government statement issued recently noted. “Work is already under way and a committee is prepared to make a preliminary report to Cabinet.

“Depending on how [Progressives political party] caucus and Cabinet want to go, legal changes would be expected.”

One area the government is expected to approve is having an online setup for work permit applications, which are required for any non-Caymanian employees working in the islands. It is hoped that the change will speed up the time it takes for work permit approvals and make it easier for immigration officers to check whether any qualified Caymanians applied for the position.