Employment Minister Tara Rivers says she is “surprised and deeply disappointed” over criticism by former Chamber of Commerce president Barry Bodden about a lack of communication from government on the Labour Relations Bill.
Ms. Rivers said she had made every effort to consult with the Chamber over the bill as well as other government plans, including a proposal for an apprenticeship scheme which later morphed into the Ready2Work employment initiative, which launched last week.
She claimed offers to the Chamber for meetings to discuss the Labour Bill were made in June last year and were not taken up by the organization.
At the Chamber’s annual general meeting last month, outgoing president Mr. Bodden said the group had not had the level of communication and engagement it was looking for on the Labour Bill in particular.
He said after consulting its membership, the group submitted an “extensive” list of recommendations concerning the bill on Aug. 31 and appealed to Ms. Rivers to meet with them to discuss those suggestions. He said there was no response to those overtures.
“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.”
Citing four meetings she had held with Chamber presidents and council members since January 2014, including as recently as Feb. 6, Ms. Rivers said she had sought to engage with the Chamber on key issues.
“Quite frankly, I was surprised and deeply disappointed to learn of these and other public utterances reported to be made by Mr. Bodden at the Chamber AGM and to the wider community during recent media appearances, as these claims are simply not true,” she said.
Mr. Bodden stood by his statements this weekend, pointing out that the Feb. 6 meeting referred to by the minister came more than a week after he had made his speech.
He said the Labour Bill is an important piece of legislation for the country and he spoke out at the AGM because he was concerned that a revised bill could be going to the Legislative Assembly without the Chamber’s suggestions being fully discussed and considered. “We had no communication from the Minister since we submitted that list of recommendations and requested a meeting for in-depth discussions on the bill. That’s why I made those comments,” he said.
Ms. Rivers, in her statement on Friday, criticized the Chamber for not doing enough to help on the unemployment issue.
“The Ministry has given the Chamber ample opportunity over the past two years to meaningfully engage by specifically asking them to assist with developing and driving targeted employment and training programs that would meet the needs of their members and ensure that jobs are more accessible to the local Caymanian population. Unfortunately, to date they have not delivered on their promises to help the government,” she said.
Ms. Rivers’s statement on Friday came just two days after the new council, headed by President Paul Pearson, of Davenport Development, met with government and appeared to have reached an agreement over greater partnership.
Following that meeting, Mr. Pearson agreed to serve on Premier Alden McLaughlin’s Employment Task Force, which will steer the Ready2Work initiative. Chamber and government released a joint press release saying they would work more closely together and would schedule quarterly meetings.
Mr. Pearson said, “We may have differences of opinion and positions on some issues, but it is more important that we keep the channels of communication open.”
Mr. McLaughlin said, “I am pleased that a new president and executive committee of the Chamber has provided the opportunity of a renewed partnership between government and the Chamber of Commerce. I look forward to a mutually beneficial relationship which serves the interest of both the business community and the people of the Cayman Islands.
In her separate statement released Friday, Ms. Rivers was less conciliatory.
She said, “It is now time for the Chamber to deliver on its stated desire for and commitment to a true partnership with the government in order to assist in addressing the employment concerns in a way that will benefit both employers and employees. However, if the organization is unable or ill-equipped to fulfil its promises, then it is incumbent upon the leadership to make this known so that the ministry and the government can continue to press ahead and make successful inroads and partnerships directly with key industry representatives as we have been doing since taking office.”