Concerns raised within the Cayman Islands Port Authority last week about mass staff layoffs are unfounded, Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell said Wednesday.
The issue was raised late Wednesday evening by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, who questioned the government on “a matter of national importance” regarding reports that were brought to his attention concerning jobs at the port authority.
“The [port] staff have every right to be concerned,” Mr. Bush said in a separate interview with the Cayman Compass Thursday.
In response to Mr. Bush, Mr. Kirkconnell read the text of a letter that was sent to all port staff on Tuesday.
The letter explained that on Nov. 18 “several government ministers were contacted by aggrieved staff of the Port Authority, Cayman Islands.” The letter asked ministers to investigate a “malicious rumor” that was “upsetting the entire port staff.”
“The harmful rumor stated that the members of the port authority [board] recently approved a resolution … to terminate all port staff,” the letter read. “In addition, whomever wanted to retain their old jobs will have to reapply under new terms and conditions.”
The reapplication process, according to the letter, was rumored to come with a caveat that no current port staff would be guaranteed any job.
“[I] categorically state, without fear of contradiction, that the above has no basis in truth whatsoever,” the letter stated. “As for the creation of such a harmful rumor and having had time to review its negative effects, said rumor was obviously designed in such a manner as to disrupt our entire organization. Consequently, such acts will not go unchecked and [will be] addressed accordingly.
“I strongly recommend that the individuals who have started or perpetuated this mischievous rumor can be found guilty of misconduct … and can be terminated pursuant to section 52(1)(a) of the Labour Law. I respectfully suggest that any such utterances of untruth cease. In addition to the action outlined above, I further suggest the individuals responsible contact myself or any other member of the authority with an apology and reason why you decided to create such a rumor.”
Mr. Kirkconnell said the letter “was from the board” of the Port Authority.
“I understand that letter, which seems to be coming from a person, but it was stated it was coming from the board of directors,” Mr. Bush said. “I still haven’t heard from the minister as regards to what … management have been given, any kind of better understanding what is the situation. Is there going to be changes?”
Mr. Kirkconnell responded that the statements made about staff layoffs were untrue.
“I would suggest to the minister … that he contact staff himself to find out … what is the situation in regards to laying off or firing … of important management at the port,” Mr. Bush said.
“I’ll investigate it,” Mr. Kirkconnell replied.
The last two government financial years have been poor ones for the port, although Premier McLaughlin said Wednesday that financial figures for the current fiscal year showed positive returns at least for the first quarter of the budget year from July to September.
In the 2012/2013 fiscal year, the public agency lost more than $2.6 million.
Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick noted in his evaluation of the agency’s financial statements that such losses prompt significant concern about its ability to continue operating.
“Given that the Port Authority has already increased fees in 2010, there is limited room for further maneuver on the revenue generation side, if the expected downward trajectory of cargo and cruise passenger volumes continues,” Mr. Swarbrick said. “The likely options include staff rationalization and direct government support to sustain operations.”
The port’s operations are considered critical to government and the Cayman Islands as a whole, so it is likely that government would step in and provide funding, Mr. Swarbrick noted. Some help may be on the way in the form of increasing cruise ship visits during 2014 and 2015, he said.