Rivers: Labour Relations Bill to be revised

Cayman Islands Employment Minister Tara Rivers confirmed Thursday that the government intends to bring a revised version of updated labor legislation to the Legislative Assembly during 2016.

The initial Labour Relations Bill, which was proposed to supplant Cayman’s current Labour Law, was quietly panned by the local business community and underwent a number of revisions behind the scenes.

Minister Rivers said the revisions that came out of that discussion will be put before the House later this year. The latest draft of the bill had not been made public as of press time Thursday.

One aspect of the revised bill – Cayman’s new $6 per hour minimum wage – has already been implemented apart from the main legislation. Ms. Rivers described this as a “major success” by the coalition government.

According to the employment minister, the government Department of Labour and Pensions has completed 21 investigations of businesses in regard to pay rates, and no violations have been detected.

She also said the wage would be reviewed periodically and that the revised Labour Relations Bill would set out how that is supposed to happen.

The government and business representatives have sparred since last summer over the main legislation, with the government blasting attorney Huw Moses over his review of the bill given to the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber then accusing the government of not consulting with the organization.

Generally, Mr. Moses warned business owners that the new Labour Relations Bill would mean added costs in their daily operations.

Those increased costs, according to the veteran attorney who runs the HSM Chambers firm, would come in the form of generally larger awards in dismissal cases, more claims of unfair dismissal, more employment-related appeals and more legal costs for companies that will be mostly unrecoverable.

Policies relating to unfair dismissal, when an employee is found to have been fired without cause, are proposed to include much stricter penalties for employers. Under the old law, workers who were unfairly dismissed were entitled to a maximum of one week’s pay for each year worked at the company.

Mr. Moses said the old award for unfair dismissal needs to be increased, but the lack of an upward limit on the award – set in earlier drafts of the bill – could potentially cause employers significant hardship and a lack of certainty.

Another area of the law that needs to be clarified, he said, is the termination of fixed-term contracts. For instance, some have misinterpreted the proposed legislation to mean that non-Caymanian work permit holders can have their contracts or permits canceled at any time if the company decides to replace them with a permanent resident or a Caymanian. Mr. Moses said that is not true.

However, if a non-Caymanian is replaced at the end of their current contract with a Caymanian or permanent resident, they are not entitled to severance pay or payment for unfair dismissal.

On the plus side, Mr. Moses told the Cayman Compass that he believes the broader powers given to the Labour Appeals Tribunal will actually assist in the process, in particular by allowing both parties in a labor dispute to resolve the matter without taking the more expensive route of going to court.

Minister Rivers said last year that the current Labour Law contains provisions that are nearly 30 years old and leads to significant uncertainty on the part of employers and employees when disputes arise. She has also noted many instances of abuse, which the updated legislation would seek to head off.