Key issues in the Cayman Islands proposed new Labour Law, including worker contract requirements for employers and closing loopholes to reduce structural discrimination against Caymanian employees, were discussed Tuesday night in the first of several public hearings on the rewritten law.
Government officials met with members of the public at the Sir John A. Cumber Primary School in West Bay.
Minister of Employment Tara Rivers explained the new Labour Relations Bill in detail before the floor was opened to the public for questions and suggestions.
Ms. Rivers was joined by Labour Department Director Mario Ebanks, who led the public feedback portion of the evening.
The new Labour Law, still in draft stage, repeals the 2011 Labour Law and the 2004 Employment Law, which were never implemented. The Labour Law was enacted in 1987 and has been amended eight times. But Ms. Rivers said that, “in essence,” the current Labour Law had not been changed significantly in almost 30 years.
She said government has been grappling with the Labour Law over the past decade, and although the government has been “very thorough” in designing the new law, she knows “we can’t stop here.” But she thinks that the new law addresses the “heart of what’s necessary.”
“This is what I think we need to do to address some of the key issues that the country is facing,” Ms. Rivers said.
Some of the key issues that the new 10-part law addresses include maternity and paternity leave, overtime and severance pay, retirement, unfair dismissal, health and safety at the workplace, and discrimination.
The draft of the bill does not include a proposal to change the minimum wage to $6 an hour, but such a change will be included in the final version of the bill following the current public consultation period.
Ms. Rivers first outlined the objectives of the new law. It is designed to enhance and better protect the rights of employers and employees, and to more effectively deter noncompliance by introducing clear timelines for enforcement actions and an administrative fine regime which increases penalties for violating the law.
Ms. Rivers said that now that the bill “has some teeth,” it will be easier to take action when complaints are made to the Department of Labour and Pensions.
Some members of the audience expressed concerns that despite the new timelines and penalties, investigations into labor complaints might still be hindered by unscrupulous government employees. Some asked who would be monitoring the monitors to ensure that each investigation is truly thorough. They were told that policing of the civil service is an issue that lies outside the purview of the Labour Law.
Ms. Rivers also indicated that many disputes brought to labor tribunals arise because there was no detailed contract provided to employees. Under the new law, employers would be required to provide employees with a written contract within 10 days of hiring. The contract would include such items as the job title and responsibilities, hours of work, pay, the period of employment and any period of probation, and an outline of the employer’s procedures for discipline and dispute resolution.
Another primary objective of the bill is to ensure that loopholes that allow for structural discrimination against Caymanian employees are reduced. A common complaint made to the Department of Labour and Pensions is that businesses often refuse to hire Caymanians on the grounds that they are overqualified. The new law specifically prohibits employers from refusing to hire Caymanians on such grounds.
Several audience members expressed concerns that the new law does not go far enough to ensure that Caymanians are employed and suggested that more needs to be done to get Caymanians into jobs held by work-permit holders. One audience member suggested that employers should be mandated to take on a Caymanian understudy for every foreign employee, and turn the job over to that understudy at the end of the foreign worker’s two-year work permit.
Many of the questions raised by the audience focused on issues pertaining to immigration, which both Mr. Ebanks and Ms. Rivers stressed are not handled by the Department of Labour and Pensions.
The government will hold five more public meetings on the Labour Relations Bill this month. In August, the government will hold another series of meetings in each district to get feedback on the new pensions bill.
The government invites the public to provide feedback on both bills through Aug. 31 via email at [email protected]