Let us extend a welcoming hand to new Chamber of Commerce President Paul Pearson, and offer a congratulatory pat on the back to outgoing Chamber President Barry Bodden for a job well done.
Mr. Pearson, a longtime Cayman Islands resident who is originally from Ireland, is best known locally as the co-owner of Davenport Development. (You can read more about Mr. Pearson and the Chamber’s annual general meeting in news stories in today’s Compass.)
During his debut performance as Chamber president, Mr. Pearson sounded the right notes and sang a song we like to hear. Early in his speech, he declared that one of his passions is education, and that he believes in the “symbiotic relationship” between business and the community, with “each relying on the other for success.”
Mr. Pearson went on to hone the rhetorical tips of those general points: “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.”
He continued, “No building can stand without a firm foundation. This also applies to our workforce and the preparedness of the hundreds of high school students who graduate each year. Many young Caymanians attempt to enter the world of work but are ill-prepared for the current workplace. Education reform at all levels is required to bridge the gaps among the expectations of employers, the curricula in the classroom and the job prospects that are available in the marketplace.”
Mr. Pearson correctly underscored the importance of a thriving economy — not for its own sake, necessarily, but to enable the furtherance of societal progress. He said, “Economic growth leads to higher incomes, lower unemployment, reduced government borrowing, improved public services and infrastructure, funding for environmental initiatives to protect our natural resources and ultimately, increased investment — all leading to a virtuous cycle of economic growth and a higher standard of living for all people living on our islands.”
He punctuated that optimistic statement with a sharp contrast: “In politics, this message is often lost.”
Of that truism, Mr. Pearson is obviously aware. But few are more immediately and intimately familiar with this current government’s relationship — or lack thereof — with local businesses than outgoing Chamber President Bodden.
Mr. Bodden illustrated some of the Chamber’s lingering frustrations, particularly with government’s handling of the Labour Relations Bill. (As you may recall, we described an earlier version of the bill as “an anti-business screed that will benefit neither employees nor employers and will result in increased unemployment in the Cayman Islands — especially among young people just starting out on their career paths.”)
Stunningly, Mr. Bodden revealed that the government hasn’t responded to the Chamber’s requests for a conversation on the topic, yet is moving forward with its own, as-yet-unseen, version of the legislation. “To date, there has been no attempt by [Employment Minister Tara Rivers] to engage with the Chamber. Furthermore, it is our understanding that a revised bill has been presented to caucus,” he said.
Mr. Bodden also noted that the Chamber was not consulted on Premier Alden McLaughlin’s proposed “Ready2Work KY” program, where government will pay the salaries of some 245 unemployed Caymanians for six months if they are taken on by local businesses … meaning, primarily, the Chamber’s membership.
We’ve previously given our general impression of the Ready2Work idea — in short, it “appears to be more of a scheme than a serious plan” to address unemployment. We’ll simply add that government’s failure even to forewarn the Chamber throws an extra bucketful of water on the damp-match prospects of the initiative’s success.
To close, we’ll hand the microphone to ex-President Bodden one last time, to sound off on the fundamental importance of education, and the fundamental wrongness of government’s asking the private sector to sacrifice the quality of its services for “social” (or “political”) reasons.
Mr. Bodden said, “The private sector has always been willing to assist in these efforts but we must focus on education, 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.”