In minimum wage debate, no clear numbers on lowest earners
As the Legislative Assembly awaits a report on the minimum wage, an advisory committee is working to collect information on exactly how much Cayman’s lowest paid workers make.
According to the head of the country’s Economic and Statistics Office, nobody knows exactly how many people are, for example, making less than $5 an hour. The statistics office does not keep data on how much workers make per hour, but it has tried to calculate just how many low-wage workers are in the country and roughly how much they make.
A method laid out by the statistics office gives a rough estimate that about 8 percent of the workforce, almost 3,000 people, made an average of less than $4.50 an hour.
In the next income bracket, almost 8,000 people made between $4.50 and $9 an hour. That means, based on available data, about 30 percent of the country’s labor force makes less than $9 an hour.
Minimum Wage Advisory Committee members have released a survey for workers and employers with hopes of getting better information on how much people make per hour in the lowest wage brackets.
A proposal made via a private members motion in the Legislative Assembly to set a $5 minimum wage failed in February. The government agreed to further study the minimum wage and collect additional information and opinions from employers and workers. Committee members originally planned to have a report ready in October but now say they hope to deliver that report in February.
Kimberly Kirkconnell, secretary to the Minimum Wage Advisory Committee, said, “It is important for the committee to know how many people are making the lowest wages in the country, as one of the objectives of this exercise is to address exploitation and provide real relief to the lowest paid workers.”
The committee, Ms. Kirkconnell said, will rely on the new surveys along with estimates from the statistics office.Maria Zingapan, director of the Economic and Statistics Office, said the method her office is using to determine the number of people in each hourly wage bracket involves taking the reported monthly wages from annual labor surveys and dividing by the average number of hours worked.
The annual Labour Force Survey is based on in-person interviews with 1,400 randomly chosen people in the country. The government collects wage data with salary ranges but does not collect exact salary and hours worked for each person polled. The office does not know how many people in that lowest income bracket work part-time, so it has to use the average hours worked country-wide, about 42 hours a week, to come up with an hourly wage number. The data also does not capture all tips collected by restaurant servers and bartenders.
The Minimum Wage Advisory Committee has been conducting a round of focus group interviews on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac and several surveys to gauge public opinion and collect additional information on the impact of a minimum wage.
Tammy Ebanks, the education ministry’s liaison to the committee, said Saturday that the new law will affect everyone across the Cayman Islands. They are conducting the focus groups and surveys because “it’s important to hear everybody’s voice on this topic,” she said.
The surveys, targeting employers, employees and unemployed people are available online at www.education.gov.ky/minimumwage, and hard copies can be found at libraries, the Government Administration Building and the Little Cayman post office starting this weekend.
Over the last two weeks, advisory committee members hosted three focus groups to collect information and anecdotes from workers and employees about minimum wage. The committee held two sessions in George Town and one on Cayman Brac.
Committee chair Lemuel Hurlston said the group hosted the sessions in addition to the surveys to gather better quality information.
“If someone feels like they’re being exploited, they might want to come and tell their story,” he said.
Ms. Ebanks said the committee had a “lively discussion” on Cayman Brac two weeks ago, with about 20 people attending, most of whom were youth who wanted a minimum wage.
The Cayman Islands Labour Law [2011 Revision] allows the government to establish the Minimum Wage Advisory Committee and sets out a process for committee members to propose a minimum wage. If approved, a minimum wage would not apply to children under 14.