Minister promises action on minimum wage

Public consultation begins, report due February

A legally mandated minimum wage for workers in the Cayman Islands will be brought to the Legislative Assembly before the next general election at the latest, employment minister Tara Rivers said Thursday. 

Announcing the beginning of a period of public consultation on what the minimum hourly rate should be, Ms. Rivers said the committee investigating the issue would finalize its report by February next year. 

Once the findings had been analyzed, she said government would bring the necessary legal changes to the house, though she could not give a definite time line for when workers would begin to see an impact on their pay packets or give an estimate of how many workers would be affected. 

A series of public meetings and focus groups will take place over the coming months, while questionnaires and Internet surveys will also help inform the discussion. The entire consultation and advisory process, which began in June, will cost $200,000, officials revealed during a press conference on Thursday. 

Ms. Rivers said there had been a lot of lip service paid to the issue of minimum wage over the years, but insisted the current government was making real moves towards getting it done. 

“It sounds good to talk about the need to have a minimum wage but there has been a clear lack of political will to take this issue forward,” she said. 

She said the current government was fulfilling a legal requirement under the labor law by establishing a committee and consulting with the public – concrete moves, she said, that showed a clear will to bring in a minimum wage. 

She said the action taken so far should give the people confidence that the government was finally moving the debate “beyond a conversation” and taking action. 

Targeted surveys have been aimed at both employers and employees in low-wage industries, with separate consideration of household workers, including domestic helpers, nannies and grounds keepers, 

Lemuel Hurlston, chairman of the Minimum Wage Advisory Committee, acknowledged that there was a possibility of recommending a “tiered minimum wage,” with different thresholds for different types of workers, including those who get tips. He said the committee had already met with representatives from the tourism industry and the Cayman Contractors Association to discuss the potential impact on those sectors. 

Another issue for the committee is enforcement in a territory that does not have an established system of income tax – used in other jurisdictions to ensure compliance with minimum wage regimes. 

Mr. Hurlston said enforcement would need to be simple and cost effective. 

“What we don’t want to do is create another round of bureaucratic machinery that is costly and difficult to manoeuver through,” he said. 

Asked why it had taken so long to get to this point, Christen Suckoo, the acting chief officer in the employment ministry, said the issue of a minimum wage was complex and had to be done in a balanced way that would not weaken the economy. 

“If this is unsustainable for employers, then overall employment drops and we have bigger unemployment issues than we had to begin with,” he said. 

In an effort to maximize response during the public consultation period, staff from the Economics and Statistics Office will target 1,400 households and 200 businesses with specific questionnaires. 

Details of focus group sessions, 
district meetings and online surveys, as well as how to make written submissions, will be posted at 
www.education.gov.ky/minimumwage.  

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Ms. Rivers
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