CITA surveys members for official response
Any national minimum wage provision will have to make special provisions for wait staff who make the bulk of their pay from tips, a leading restaurateur has warned.
The Cayman Islands Tourism Association is surveying its members in an effort to reach an industry consensus on the issue amid a growing sense of certainty that government plans to finally introduce the measure after some 20 years of debate.
The survey, which asks members to respond by May 9, asks, “We want to learn more about your thoughts on minimum wage, how gratuities are handled and what you feel defines a ‘wage’ in hospitality.”
Markus Mueri, co-owner of several restaurants, including Abacus and Deckers, said it is important for the industry to have a unified stance when it makes representations to the recently formed Minimum Wage Advisory Committee. The committee is expected to make a formal recommendation to government by Oct. 1.
“The industry is ready to talk. We hear the premier quite loud and clear, and we will work with them to try and establish a base salary.
“We would also like to see something done to lower the cost of business because right now we are only talking about things that add costs, Mr. Mueri said.
He said he pays $4.50 for “front of house” staff who attract the largest tips, and a $6.50 for “back of house” staff, who get a smaller share of the tips. He believes those figures would be a reasonable starting point for a two-tier minimum wage.
Mr. Mueri said the issue is complex in Cayman across a number of industries, including real estate, where agents sometimes work entirely for commission, and in spas and salons where beauty therapists can be paid a weekly wage with the number of hours varying depending on demand.
“It is not as easy as just setting a figure. That is why we have been taking about this for 20 years,” he said.
For the hospitality industry, gratuities are the biggest sticking point.
“My personal opinion is there needs to be different levels for employees who receive gratuities. I do believe there should be a minimum wage for servers, there are still some that pay US$3 an hour, so we should set the standard somewhere, but there needs to be very different rates for those that get gratuities and those who don’t.”
Some wait staff pull in as much as $200 on a busy night, though it can be much less in low season. The pot washers, who get a much smaller share of the tips, are perhaps in greater need of protection through a higher wage, said Mr. Mueri.
He also believes enforcement could be a potential stumbling block to any minimum wage law, with those who play by the rules suffering in comparison to those who don’t, something he believes is already happening with the payment of pensions.
Mr. Mueri said a minimum wage would increase costs for many in the industry, and he is keen to see government start discussing measures to bring down the cost of operating – particularly for small business.
“At the moment, if you have a 20-seat restaurant or a 100-seat restaurant, the cost of a trade and business license or a work permit is not much different. Right now, we are only seeing increases in costs. We’d like to see something happen to bring down the cost of doing business.”