The Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce is calling on the government to consult with the group before any amended Labour Relations Bill is taken to the Legislative Assembly.
At the Chamber’s annual general meeting Wednesday, outgoing president Barry Bodden said that while the group submitted an “extensive” list of recommendations concerning the draft labor bill in September and appealed to Employment Minister Tara Rivers to meet with the Chamber to discuss those recommendations, there has yet to be any “attempt by the minister to engage with the Chamber.”
“The Chamber and other associations spent considerable time to review and to submit constructive recommendations on the initial bill,” Mr. Bodden said at the meeting. “As the most representative voice for the business community, we call upon the minister to consult with us before taking any amended [Labour Relations] bill to the Legislative Assembly.”
Mr. Bodden said it is the Chamber’s understanding that a revised bill has already been presented to caucus.
“Many small businesses are struggling to survive,” Mr. Bodden said. “It would be disastrous if the new bill creates additional expense and paperwork at a time when many businesses will have to cope with the introduction of a minimum wage and the new requirements of the Trade and Business Licensing Law.”
Mr. Bodden said the Chamber also was not been consulted on the proposed Ready2Work initiative that attempts to match workers with jobs in the private sector and pay their salaries and benefits for up to six months. The incentive, designed to get companies to take a chance on unemployed Caymanians, will begin in February, and $1.7 million from the Labour Department’s budget has been allocated for the program.
Mr. Bodden said the Chamber is “willing to assist the ministry in any way possible” on the initiative.
He described how some of the Chamber’s attempts to work with government to develop solutions to unemployment have been futile. In October, Mr. Bodden, incoming Chamber President Paul Pearson, and CEO Wil Pineau met with Premier Alden McLaughlin, Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell and Senior Political Adviser Roy Tatum to discuss the unemployment situation.
“Despite what we felt was a productive meeting, the premier decided to cast blame on the business community for not doing enough to address the unemployment situation and called on businesses to be ‘more willing to take on Caymanians who don’t meet precisely all of the employment requirements to train them,’” Mr. Bodden said.
“The public blame game does nothing to resolve a problem that is a complex national issue,” he added.
Mr. Bodden said the private sector has always been willing to assist government in its attempts to address unemployment, but the focus should be on the “educating, training and up-skilling of our workforce so they are job ready, as opposed to government asking the business community to lower their hiring standards and take on additional costs.”
He also said the issue of unemployment could not be fully addressed until government creates a “comprehensive database of unemployed persons.” Last year, the Chamber suggested that all unemployed workers register with the National Workforce Development Agency, so that their skills – and any barriers to employment – could be assessed, and they could be sent to training programs.
“The [Chamber] council considers it unacceptable that there is not an accurate list of registered unemployed persons who have been assessed to determine their skills level and readiness for work and, again, we urge our government leaders to make this a priority.”
Mr. Bodden also said it is “regrettable” that the government decided to withdraw its September pledge to introduce daylight saving time in March.
“The economic benefits of introducing [daylight saving time] far outweigh any disadvantages and we believe the government has missed an excellent opportunity to generate additional revenue for the Islands,” Mr. Bodden said.
He said that while there remain areas of “uncertainty and concern,” the Chamber had an “eventful and productive year overall.”
According to the Chamber’s annual report, in 2015 the organization held more than 50 training courses at its Professional Development and Training Centre, organized a Careers, Education, and Training Expo, and graduated 25 participants from the Leadership Cayman programs.
The Chamber also matched 37 students with member business leaders as part of its Mentoring Cayman program, and organized an Earth Day Roadside Cleanup with almost 1,500 volunteers, in addition to many other events.
Incoming Chamber President Pearson said in his address that Cayman needs a “national dialogue with honest and frank discussions” on the topic of work permits.
“The private sector needs more qualified and motivated workers,” Mr. Pearson said. “The protectionist, nationalist agenda of limiting work permits based on the belief that this will address unemployment among Caymanians is ill-advised and will only cause employers to downsize their businesses, outsource positions altogether or reduce their local operations.”
The Chamber also held elections for new council members at the AGM.
The new vice president is Paul Byles. Wayne Cowan was elected to continue his position as treasurer, and Gregg Anderson, Roz Griffiths, Victoria Hew and James O’Brien were elected to serve as councilors. The council also includes President-elect Kyle Broadhurst, Secretary Colin Reid, and councilors Gary Rutty and Christopher Kirkconnell.