Labour Law violations “widespread” for household employees
One domestic worker was left penniless at the airport when she refused her employer’s sexual advances, another was given a chair as her “accommodations,” and a third live-in domestic worker was expected to be “on call” from 5 a.m. until midnight for a family with six children and paid $800 a month. A new report from the Minimum Wage Advisory Committee cites these stories after studying Cayman’s low-wage workers over the past year.
Domestic workers are the lowest paid and most vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, according to the report released last week by the committee. The group recommended a $6 an hour minimum wage and said the biggest impact would be on the estimated 2,600 household employees earning less than the recommendation.
Committee chairman Lemuel Hurlston said Cayman is “addicted to cheap labor and needs to wean away from that addiction.”
The average domestic worker in Cayman makes a little more than $4 an hour. The minimum wage proposal gives an exception for household employees who are given room and board, which can make up a quarter of the hourly wage, or $1.50. For domestic workers who receive room and board, and bartenders and others who get gratuities, the minimum hourly wage would be $4.50.
The report estimates that the wage increase would cost household employers more than $10 million, and 190 domestic jobs would be lost.
Committee co-chairman Nicolas Joseph, a lawyer, who attended the focus groups and interviews with domestic workers, said he was not surprised by what he called “widespread noncompliance” with labor laws among household employers.
Much of what he heard in the in-person interviews and written comments sent to the committee, Mr. Joseph said, showed domestic workers are frequently denied overtime pay, don’t get healthcare coverage and have substandard housing, all violations of Cayman labor laws. He estimated only 10 percent to 30 percent of households with domestic workers comply with the law.
None of the most extreme examples, Mr. Joseph said, were recorded by him firsthand, but came through written comments or interviews with consular officials from Jamaica and the Philippines.
“There’s a history of very light regulation in the Cayman Islands” when it comes to labor protections, he said, and it’s not surprising that compliance with the law is low. “Many of the mechanisms look good on paper,” Mr. Joseph said, but that does not translate to better conditions for domestics.
The Minimum Wage Advisory Committee recommended two legislative changes to help address issues of abuse and exploitation in the domestic worker industry and others. First, the report states, government should add whistle-blower provisions to the Labour Law to protect workers who complain about conditions or pay. Second, the committee report recommends classifying households with domestic workers as employers so that the Labour Law will apply to nannies and household workers.
Mr. Hurlston said exploitation comes in two forms for Cayman’s lowest paid workers: economic, with low wages, and by “employers physically, verbally or sexually abusing their employees.” The wage committee heard from workers who had experienced both.
Almost 95 percent of domestic workers are expats, mostly from Jamaica and the Philippines, according to government statistics. Mr. Joseph said the Filipino government vets employers before allowing its citizens to travel overseas for work, providing an “extra check” for workplace conditions.