Reviewing the new recommendations on a minimum wage for Cayman, Human Rights Commission members said the $6 an hour proposal is too conservative and called on future reviews to take a “more generous” approach to setting the wage.
Commissioners commended the Minimum Wage Advisory Committee for tackling issues of labor abuse and lack of protections for Cayman’s lowest paid employees, especially domestic workers.
The Minimum Wage Advisory Committee released its report in February after almost a year of studying Cayman’s lowest paid workers. The committee recommended a $6 an hour minimum wage and carved out employees making tips or other benefits, such as room and board, setting a $4.50 minimum wage for waiters, bartenders, live-in domestic workers and others.
“The Commission understands the extent of analysis the Committee undertook during this exercise, however, it is regrettable that the Committee chose to ‘err on the side of caution by starting at a conservative rate’ for the minimum wage,” Human Rights Commission members said in an email statement responding to questions from the Cayman Compass.
Wage committee chair Lemuel Hurlston, in an earlier interview, said setting the rate was a “question of arriving at a fair balance.” He said that balance was between impacts on employers and economic impacts versus protecting Cayman’s most vulnerable workers.
A big part of the committee’s recommendations, Mr. Hurlston said, is an annual staff review and full review by the committee every four years.
The Human Rights Commissioners said, “It is to be hoped that in any future reviews the Committee will take a more generous (or at least neutral) approach to assessing the minimum wage.”
While studying Cayman’s lowest-paid workers, wage committee members came across numerous examples of abuse, particularly in homes employing nannies and domestics. The report details allegations of physical, emotional and sexual abuse of domestic workers, who earn an average of $4 an hour.
Nicolas Joseph, an attorney and co-chair for the wage committee, said he was not surprised to hear the abuse accusations. Cayman has what he called “widespread noncompliance” with labor laws, estimating that only 10 percent to 30 percent of household employers fully comply with the law.
Commissioners said they were “extremely concerned” about the allegations of abuse in the report. Commission members acknowledged their limited power to investigate crimes, but they said “it does have the ability, in appropriate cases, to address complaints whilst preserving victims’ anonymity and will do so in cases of domestic worker abuse and exploitation if necessary.”
Commission members said, “Effective remedies must be provided by the Cayman Islands Government to safeguard the rights of those persons identified as vulnerable.” The Human Rights Commission called on government to put more resources into educating employers, and investigating and prosecuting cases of worker abuse.
“Only by effective enforcement action can victims of exploitation have confidence in the systems and law in place such that they feel able to make complaints to the authorities,” commissioners said.