McLaughlin responds to Chamber critique
The Cayman Islands government intends to focus on “specific interventions” to assist in lessening Caymanian unemployment within the next 18 months, Premier Alden McLaughlin said Monday.
Specific details of any such interventions were not explained by the premier during a press conference earlier this week, but Mr. McLaughlin indicated that his government would consider organizational changes that could provide “the best arrangements for the administration of work permits.”
The effort would, among other things, “investigate the current and future skills needs of employers,” identifying how companies can maintain training and development programs to ensure Caymanian workers obtain and maintain required job capabilities, the premier said.
“This government does not view unemployment as the fault of business and we do not believe any work permit issued is a job taken away from a Caymanian,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “However, we do believe there is more business can do to provide opportunities for Caymanians … and there is more government can do.”
Mr. McLaughlin’s comments were made after the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce issued a critical statement of the Progressives-led government late last month, urging the administration to “stop blaming business” for social problems within the territory.
The chamber council’s Oct. 27 statement indicated the territory’s largest commercial representative group was becoming concerned that difficulties with obtaining legal permits for foreign workers – of which there are currently more than 22,000 – could eventually hurt a local economy that depends heavily on foreign labor.
“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.”
On Monday, Mr. McLaughlin sought to turn that view of the current work permit numbers around.
“It is absolutely unacceptable, with 22,000 work permits, which indicates a huge demand, an over-demand for labor in the local economy … that you have any substantial number of Caymanians unemployed,” the premier said.
Caymanian unemployment, which had dropped from above 10 percent to about 7.9 percent last fall, rose slightly in spring 2015 to 8.3 percent.
However, Finance Minister Marco Archer chalked up the small rise in the numbers to the fact that the latest labor force survey was conducted, for the first time in a decade, in the springtime.
Mr. Archer argued that, in the fall, local companies are generally in the process of “staffing up” for the upcoming tourism season. By April-May, they are ramping down, he said.
Again, Mr. McLaughlin took a somewhat different view of the numbers.
“At a time when the economy has rebounded substantially, at a time when work permits have grown from 17,000 to 22,000 … the unemployment numbers for Caymanians are going in the wrong direction,” the premier said Monday.
He said his administration would urge the government service to take a more direct role in placing Caymanians in specific jobs, “identifying who these unemployed are and finding matches for them [and] identifying what deficiencies keep them from being employed in this very robust economy that we have.”
“We cannot make excuses for these people that they are just unemployable,” Mr. McLaughlin said.