Seasonal work crews seek long-term opportunities
Between the stigma of a lifelong struggle with drug addiction and a son in jail for murder, Katina Masura Anglin has struggled to find steady employment.
Small places have long memories and misdeeds are not soon forgotten. The 44-year-old has had some hard times and admits she has made her share of mistakes.
Leaning on a rake at Barkers public beach in West Bay, Friday, as she joined a crew of jobseekers working on the government’s Christmas clean-up, Ms. Anglin was looking ahead to a brighter future.
“Cayman is so small, it is hard to make a new start, but that is what I am trying to do,” she said.
Ms. Anglin is one of 700 people who signed up to work on the National Community Enhancement Project, a government initiative to offer seasonal work at a decent salary to the unemployed. It is just a week for most, but the pay-off is about more than money in the bank.
“The relief this has brought to these people is hard to express,” says Ms. Anglin. “They have money for pre-school fees for January, they are able to buy Christmas presents for their children and parents, they can get the turkey or the ham for Christmas dinner. It is a good thing.
“It is a good salary, too. The appreciation for the gesture outweighs the economic value.”
For people who, at times, feel forgotten, it is also about respect.
“All of a sudden, we have pride,” Ms. Anglin said. “We look at our communities, at our beaches and roadsides and think, we did that.”
The number of people who signed up for the Christmas project far exceeded that anticipated by government. Under the scheme, work supervisors are paid $12 an hour and laborers are paid $10 an hour.
The workers had to be split into three shifts, each getting a week’s worth of work. They were split into district teams working with the National Roads Authority, the Department of Environmental Health and the Recreation, Parks and Cemeteries Unit.
Mark Bothwell, the project manager, said no one had been afraid to wield a rake or push a wheelbarrow.
“Most of these guys, 95 percent, in my opinion, are willing and ready to work,” he said. “We have been very happy with the way most of them have worked and the attitude they have shown.”
Many of the Caymanians on site at Barkers on Friday believe they face a stigma in the workplace. They say the number of people that signed up for the Christmas program shows that when a reasonable wage is on offer, local people are eager and ready to get their hands dirty and put in a shift.
“What has happened in the last 10 years, there has been a lot of cheap labor imported. Caymanians can’t afford to work for those salaries,” said Cadion Ebanks.
Howard Rivers agrees.
“As a Caymanian, they know they have to give me $8 or $10, but they can bring in a foreigner and pay them $4.”
Mr. Ebanks has worked, in the past, for the planning department and as a marine officer. Now in his late fifties, he says he has been looking for a job for three years. He was chosen as the foreman for the West Bay crew and will work the full three weeks
For himself and his crew, he hopes it leads to full-time employment.
“Everybody has put their hand up and put in a good day’s work,” he said.
Mr. Rivers has had injury problems over the last few years, including losing an eye after being assaulted.
Unless one looks very closely, it is hard to tell his right eye is artificial. But the injury has impacted his employment opportunities.
“Most job sites won’t give me work. I try to do a few things on my own as well, but it is nice to have this.
“The only thing is, I wish it was year round,” he said.
For Jessica Ebanks, a single mother with a 4-year-old daughter and another child on the way, the cleanup project is a blessing.
“The Christmas money is great, it’s a start,” she said. “I will get a few presents for my little girl but that will be that. I am going to save the rest.” “It would be good if it happened more often,” added the 21-year-old, who has been looking for part-time work after graduating the Passport2Success program.
Many of the other workers agreed. Georgette Rivers used to work as a teller at a bank. She has been trying to set up her own pet grooming business, but welcomes the temporary work.
“It has been a great learning experience,” Ms. Rivers said. “I now know how to operate a weed wacker and a leaf blower.
“I think we need this more often. A lot of Caymanians are good with their hands. If you take the time to teach them and treat them right, you will have a good worker.”
Shane Rankine said he would be spending the Christmas cash on his four kids. He said the week of work was great, but people needed long-term opportunities.
“If even half the people that have come out for this could get work, that is 350 people. That is big,” he said. “That will bring down the unemployed population.
“We want to work, we just need more opportunity.”