New labor law proposals, out for public consultation this week, could make sweeping changes to employment laws in the Cayman Islands, including raising the retirement age, increasing the length of maternity leave and creating new whistleblower protections.
Announcing the new bill at a press briefing on Wednesday, Education and Employment Minister Tara Rivers said, “Caymanians are being retired as soon as they turn the age of 60 … They are willing, able and need to work beyond the age of 60.”
The Labour Relations Bill 2015 does not include the proposed minimum wage, but Ms. Rivers said the recommendations from the Minimum Wage Advisory Committee will be included after the public consultation period.
She said the minimum wage report, which calls for a $6 an hour minimum wage and $4.50 an hour for workers who also earn gratuities, came too late to be included in the public consultation bill.
The minimum wage proposal calls for a number of legal changes to implement the minimum wage. Some of the provisions in the committee proposal are already included in the consultation draft for the new labor law, including making households with domestic workers legally recognized as workplaces, and whistleblower protections for people who make complaints about their employers
The bill, if approved, would replace the current Labour Law and the Employment Law, which was never fully implemented. The proposed new legislation is available on the Employment Ministry website. The minister said government plans to hold open meetings in each district to gather input on the proposal and will meet separately with stakeholder groups. The ministry is also collecting input by email and will post a survey to gauge how people feel about the changes.
The draft bill creates a new category for discrimination, making it illegal to refuse a job to a Caymanian if he or she is deemed “overqualified” for the position. The employment minister said government has seen a trend in Caymanians being denied jobs because employers thought the candidate was overqualified.
Hiring Caymanians not discrimination
Discrimination in hiring and wages is illegal based on sex, race, religion, age, politics and several other categories. But the exception is for employers to give preference to Caymanians. The new bill states explicitly, “Where preference is given to a Caymanian in relation to hiring, such preference shall not be regarded as discriminatory.” The bill does not include discrimination protections based on sexual orientation.
If approved, the new law will be the first time sexual harassment is made illegal under the labor law. Sexual harassment is already illegal under other legislation, but is not made explicit in the current Labour Law.
For the first time, Cayman law will recognize the concept of constructive dismissal in the new proposal. Constructive dismissal is the concept of making a workplace so untenable, due to harassment or discrimination, that an employee is left with no other option but to quit.
Maternity and paternity leave
Maternity leave gets a bump in the new proposal, going from 12 weeks of leave to 14 weeks, six of which have to be taken immediately after a baby is born. The bill does not change the time of paid leave, which will still cover 20 days of paid time and another 20 days at half pay. With the bill, employers for the first time will also have to give paternity leave to new fathers. New dads, at a minimum, will get five days paid and five days unpaid paternity leave.
The bill also includes a provision to give expectant mothers paid time off for doctor’s appointments.
The new labor proposal includes protections for people who complain to government regulators about harassment, unsafe conditions, criminal activity or unethical behavior. This is the first time protections for whistleblowers are enshrined in the Cayman Islands labor law.
Statute of limitations extended
A statute of limitations, – the time government has to file a lawsuit or criminal charges for labor law violations – will be two years in the new proposal. The current law does not give a specific time restraint, so cases have to be filed within six months. Labour and Pensions Director Mario Ebanks said six months typically does not give investigators enough time to put a case together for the Department of Public Prosecutions, and extending that to two years will help bring better cases against employers who violate labor rules.