The Builders Law, enacted in May 2007 and never brought into effect, is back on the table.
Speaking at the Chamber of Commerce Legislative Luncheon on Oct. 9, Premier Alden McLaughlin said the government was pressing forward with amendments to the Law and then bringing it into effect.
The impetus behind the move is the number of construction companies operating outside of various laws or building poor-quality or incomplete projects.
Mr. McLaughlin explained that in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan, there were a proliferation of construction companies formed, “many by persons who knew little or nothing about building.”
“This was and is still possible because all that is required to become a building contractor in Cayman is a Trade and Business Licence,” he said.
The multitude of construction companies hold numerous work permits, Mr. McLaughlin said, noting that a large majority of those work permits were held by small operators.
“Some operate without paying pension, health insurance or other benefits and thus are able to underbid companies that comply with statutory requirements,” he said. “Others don’t operate at all, but simply farm out their work permit holders. The result is that there are currently some 2,091 work permits held for construction workers at a time when a number of Caymanian tradesmen and laborers are unemployed.”
In addition to the work permit situation, Mr. McLaughlin said the government had fielded “a number of concerns from the public on the quality of workmanship by contractors, or of consumers being left with the responsibility of incomplete or poor-quality projects.”
He said part of the problem is that many contractors don’t practice within their expertise and their inexperience in construction leads to mismanaged jobs and consumers being left “out of pocket.”
Mr. McLaughlin said the government had consulted with the industry with regard to pressing forward with the implementation of the Builders Law with amendments.
“The law will require builders to demonstrate their ability and to be licensed within their specific area of expertise,” he said. “It is expected that this law will reduce the number of unqualified contractors in the market and the abuse of work permits, thus creating more opportunities for Caymanians.”
Heber Arch, president of the Cayman Contractors Association, said the Builders Law was well put together and the amendments will make it even better.
“We certainly support it. We’re 100 percent on board and will support it in any way we can,” he said, adding that there are many reasons why the association supports it. “The main reason being that we can control the quality of construction.”
Deputy Chief Officer Tristan Hydes of the Ministry of Planning, Lands, Agriculture, Housing and Infrastructure said the way the new law will work is that anyone who has a specific area of construction expertise – masons, plumbers, carpenters, sheetrock specialists, etc. – will have to be licensed, although common construction laborers will not. “[Tradesmen] can be registered for multiple trades,” he said.
Mr. Hydes said that, initially, contractors and tradesmen would have the ability to get “grand-fathered” licensing by supplying references, however, eventually the licensing regime will lead to trade schools and testing.
Part of the reason for requiring all tradesmen to be registered is that some construction workers with specific areas of expertise are trying to become general contractors without the requisite knowledge to do all of the work required on a project proficiently.
With the exception of requiring all tradesmen to be licensed, Mr. Hydes said the amended Builders Law will substantially be the same as the one passed in 2007. “There are a half dozen or a dozen one-line changes,” he said.
Mr. Hydes said one of those changes involved reducing the amount of liability insurance needed for small contractors. There will also be changes to the regulations of the law, one of which involves charging a flat fee for the registration of contractors instead of a fee based on the size of the company.
Mr. McLaughlin said that the government hoped to bring the amendments to the Builders Law to the Legislative Assembly during the session that will take place the last week of November. “We’re aiming for that,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ll make it; if not, it will be early next year.”