Those numbers — which represent, at best, government’s “best guess” — do not provide insight into whether or not Cayman should enact a minimum wage. In this instance, best guesses could well be risky guesses.
In order to arrive at figures for hourly wages, Cayman’s government statisticians are relying on their annual Labour Force Survey, which, unfortunately for this particular purpose, does not include exact information on hourly wages earned. It records only ranges of monthly salaries and the average number of hours worked overall — and so potentially does not distinguish between people who work part-time at relatively high hourly rates, and people who work around-the-clock at relatively low hourly rates.
Additionally, the information does not specifically account for the significant number of people in Cayman who receive gratuities or other bonuses in addition to guaranteed salaries.
The fact that Cayman does not have precise numbers on hourly wages is not surprising — given the country’s lack of an income tax. Unlike the U.S. with its Internal Revenue Service, Cayman lacks the mechanism to collect accurate information on income — and, it follows, to enforce any minimum wage law that legislators enact.
That doesn’t mean Cayman couldn’t create a new enforcement mechanism — although the last thing this country needs is an additional layer of cumbersome and burdensome bureaucracy. A minimum wage law could, in theory, be enforced via a tribunal or commission responding to individuals’ complaints, but judging by the performance of such bodies responsible for pensions, health insurance and gender equality, for example, Cayman rightly should be wary of adopting or adapting those models.
Let’s ask a fundamental question:
What is the purpose, precisely, of instituting a statutory minimum wage in Cayman? Is it expected that such a measure would result in greater employment among Caymanians, who presumably would take over jobs currently occupied by expatriates willing to work for wages deemed “too low” or working in positions somehow considered “beneath them”?
If that is the case, then our officials would be well-advised to halt their march toward a minimum wage and focus their attention (and rhetoric) on personal responsibility and professional ambition.
We do not believe for a moment that anyone refusing to work for, say, $3.50 an hour will be attracted into the labor force for, say, $5 an hour. If a person’s income is zero and a job becomes available at any hourly wage, he or she should take that job. What is the alternative? To wait for a handout from family members or social services?
Nevertheless, we are reminded of Napoleon’s statement of the obvious: “If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna.”
Likewise, if Cayman’s lawmakers wish to establish a national minimum wage, then they should establish a national minimum wage. North Side MLA Ezzard Miller’s suggestion of $5 per hour seems appropriate enough. What is not appropriate is to establish a 19-member committee with a $200,000 budget to commission studies, assemble focus groups and hold town hall meetings.
Let us offer a prediction — and a concern. By their nature, committees compromise and almost always complicate. Expect a recommendation of not one national minimum wage but perhaps many more. Maybe even a separate minimum wage for every business category identifiable in the Cayman Islands.
To us, Ezzard’s proposal is looking better and better.