The Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce will not back the current draft of revamped labor legislation due to what the organization’s president described Wednesday as the “potential economic fallout” it could cause.
“We cannot support [the bill] in its current form,” Chamber President Barry Bodden told a lunchtime crowd of hundreds gathered for the Chamber’s annual legislative luncheon at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. Mr. Bodden noted that the business group had suggested 16 changes to the law that it would discuss with Employment Minister Tara Rivers shortly.
“Are we drafting legislation or policies to appease the concerns of a small minority or are we addressing wider issues that actually require fixing to grow our economy?” Mr. Bodden asked.
Mr. Bodden said Chamber members remain concerned about the high cost of operating businesses in the Cayman islands, including high work permit fees, limited access to skilled local labor, increasing bureaucracy and regulation, as well as unfair competition in the local market from rogue companies.
The Labour Relations Bill, which represents a complete rewrite of the current Labour Law, would create a number of significant changes, particularly in the area of employment contracts and how dismissal of workers is to be handled.
Veteran local attorney Huw Moses warned last month that local businesses could generally expect to see larger monetary awards in employee dismissal cases, more claims of unfair dismissal and, therefore, more labor-related appeals where legal costs borne by the businesses may not be recoverable from employees as a result of the Labour Relations Bill changes.
Mr. Moses said government should make some legal “tweaks” to the current draft, particularly with an eye toward giving local companies a grace period to comply with the new legislation.
“The big unknown is what the cost per employer will be for a particular business … to get compliant,” Mr. Moses said. “It will vary dramatically from business to business.”
The Labour Relations Bill is just one of several pieces of legislation being considered by lawmakers over the course of the next year that will bring changes in legal compliance for local businesses, Mr. Bodden said. Others include the potential introduction of a $6 per hour minimum wage, the new requirements of the Trade and Business Licensing Law, pension reform and other changes affecting the Cayman Islands financial services industry.
“We … call on government to refrain from introducing any significant legislation, polices or new fees that could further increase the cost of doing business,” Mr. Bodden said.
In response to the Chamber president, Premier Alden McLaughlin, who addressed the annual luncheon after Mr. Bodden spoke, noted that government has already pledged not to increase fees or taxes for the rest of its term.
Mr. McLaughlin said his government welcomes the Chamber’s input on the Labour Relations Bill and has agreed to extend the public comment period for the legislation to accommodate the widest number of views possible.
In addition, the premier said government agreed to “give up” about $70 million in tax breaks and small business incentives over the past two years to stimulate the economy. Those efforts included a 2 percent reduction in import duty rates for most items, a 50 cent per gallon duty reduction in diesel fuel tariffs charged to Caribbean Utilities Company and various licensing fee cuts for small and “micro” businesses.
In addition, the premier said government had spent millions giving civil servants a four percent across-the-board pay raise this year.
“This equates to a $70 million stimulus that finds its way back into the economy,” Mr. McLaughlin said.