The Cayman Islands government must stop “blaming business owners” for the social problems that successive governments have “failed to prevent,” a Tuesday statement from the Chamber of Commerce’s executive council declares.
The Chamber council’s statement indicated that the territory’s largest business representative group is becoming concerned that difficulties with obtaining legal permits for foreign workers – of which there are currently more than 22,000 – could eventually hurt the local economy, which depends heavily on foreign labor.
The latest government survey of the local labor force, conducted this spring, showed that of a working population of more than 40,000, 47.3 percent were Caymanian and 52.7 percent were non-Caymanian.
“In an economy with 20,000 more jobs than citizens, it is unrealistic, in fact mathematically impossible, for every job to be awarded to a Caymanian,” the Chamber council statement read. “It is disingenuous to portray every work permit issued as a Caymanian job lost.”
The typically moderate Chamber organization’s statement was made in response to comments during a Legislative Assembly debate on Oct. 22 by Community Affairs Minister Osbourne Bodden.
Mr. Bodden, speaking about a private members’ motion filed by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, was generally discussing the need to improve educational and training opportunities for Caymanian workers. Those opportunities were not readily available or even considered that important a generation ago, he said.
During his debate, Minister Bodden decried employers’ “easy access to work permits” and noted that every time someone in government complained about the situation “somebody squeals.”
He also said the Immigration Department’s current work permit approval system is a “confusion alley” and he advocated the separation of work permit approvals from the department, which has law enforcement as its primary function.
Supporting the minister’s call for immigration reform, the Chamber council stated he was not correct regarding current access to work permits. Immigration boards, the council noted, will typically only grant a work permit after “an employer has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt” that no qualified Caymanian worker is available.
“Wholesale denial or frustration of work permits will only cause the economy to contract further and put more Caymanians out of work,” the council stated. “Failing companies do not equate to job opportunities for Caymanians, nor success for Caymanian business owners.”
The current work permit system, in the Chamber’s view, does not provide Caymanians who have suffered discrimination in looking for a job any redress, nor does it allow companies to defend themselves against such allegations.
“The Chamber of Commerce condemns every instance of discrimination against Caymanians,” the council statement read. “However, we reject the notion that the private sector is systematically biased.
“The private sector would not employ 13,000 working Caymanians if local employers were predisposed to not hiring them.”