EDITORIAL – Work Permits: Pick your category, pick your price

A woman walks into a grocery store and approaches two bins of identical tomatoes.

On one bin, the sign reads, “Tomatoes: 2 dollars a pound.”

On the other, “ToMAHtoes, 4 dollars a pound.”

Now, imagine a store that contains thousands upon thousands of such bins, many of them containing almost identical items with slightly different names – but radically different prices.

Welcome to the world of Work Permits, which contains more than 1,100 job categories, plus an additional 5,000 sub-categories.

As we published on the front page of Tuesday’s Compass, a review of the 24,880 work permits held by non-Caymanian workers revealed that the Immigration Department’s array of job titles is characterized by disorganization, duplication, and outright nit-picky nonsense.

Can anyone keep tabs on 15 different sub-categories of “Beach Attendant/Deck Hand?” Or 370 sub-categories involving “sales?”

Fragrance and cosmetics sales associates, for example, were classified variously under the occupational categories of Buyer, Merchandise/Retail Trade, Sales Associate, Sales Representatives/Agents, and Jewelry Makers and Repairman.

If you are a Computer Repair Technician who also serves as a Sales Representative, you are in luck: Government has a category for that.

There are special classifications for an employee who works as a Cashier/Receptionist Typist, one who is a Retail Cashier, and one who is a Non-Retail Cashier.

But if you are talking Counter Clerks (including Grocery Store Clerks, Cashiers, Counter Agents and Sales Associates), that is a separate category altogether, apparently different from Customer Service Representatives (including Sales Clerks, Service Representatives and Retail Sales Associates), and not to be confused with Grocery Clerks (including Cashiers, Deli Clerks, Grocery Clerks, Meat and Seafood Associates, Sales Associates, etc.)

For our business community’s highly valued administrative assistants, the government has a half-dozen classifications: Administrative Assistant, Administrative Assistant for Fund Services, Administrative Clerks, Administrative Secretaries and Administrative Secretary. (Yes, the last two are distinct.)

Are you dizzy yet? We sure are.

The absurdities enumerated above might be comical if they did not engender such serious consequences. Consider the costs to companies to comply with the system, or the costs to taxpayers as government attempts to administer and enforce it. Or consider the mental health of our beloved civil servants who have to deal with this nonsensical system each and every day.

We ask two questions:

First, who created this chaotic system in the first place? (A name would be welcome.) Embarrassingly, the list of occupational categories is replete with misspellings that would never get past the watchful eye of a fourth-grade English teacher. Remember, we are looking at a work product that represents our country!

Second, as we sometimes say at the Compass, “Didn’t anybody read this thing before we published it?”

Other government databases similarly demonstrate labyrinthine unintelligibility, including occupational listings for permanent residency applications and, memorably, Cayman’s Customs codes. (Who can forget the line item we once highlighted that established the official duty on locomotives imported to the Cayman Islands?)

An ancillary consequence of such sloppy (not to mention silly) work in the public sector is that it diminishes our respect for, and confidence in, government work in general. We as taxpayers have every right to expect high-quality services and output from our expansive public sector.

When it comes to our “tomatoes analogy,” we wonder, reluctantly, who is minding the store?

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