The projected unemployment rates for the Cayman Islands recently shared by Finance Minister Roy McTaggart sound less like estimates than calibrations of a finely tuned scientific instrument. The economy – as even economists know – is anything but a finely tuned instrument.
Nevertheless, Mr. McTaggart told Chamber of Commerce members last week that the overall unemployment rate in Cayman currently is 4.4 percent and is expected to decline to 4.2 percent in 2019 and 4.0 percent in 2020.
How could Mr. McTaggart, or anyone else, possibly know this? Did government factor into its calculations, for example, the uncertainty in the financial services sector (given the myriad of global threats to the industry?) We hope they did, because Cayman’s financial sector currently employs more than 7,500 workers or, put another way, approximately 18.3 percent of our total labor force.
Regardless of what the government says, or thinks it knows, about present and future employment numbers, we do know this: Unemployment in Cayman, including among Caymanians, is enviably low.
As of fall 2017, the government estimated Caymanian unemployment at 7.3 percent, which translates into 1,515 jobless Caymanians.
Let’s dissect that number further:
Some are qualified workers who are simply “between jobs” temporarily.
Others are workers who do not possess the qualifications needed to secure the jobs they desire. These will remain unemployed until their expectations align with reality.
And still others can be considered truly “unemployable,” because of issues with health, education, attitude, substance abuse, or a whole host of other disqualifiers.
All of the above need to be subtracted from the frequently quoted, but still minuscule, 1,515 number. The “real number” is likely well under 1,000.
When politicians make promises of “a job for every Caymanian,” what they are really doing is attempting to score political points by portraying Caymanians as victims of discrimination in their own country. That’s when the political myth becomes both divisive and dangerous.
Enter the government’s newest department, where the myth is the mission.
Taking on responsibilities that formerly were the remit of the Department of Immigration and the National Workforce Development Agency, the new “Workforce Opportunities & Residency Cayman” (or “WORC”) promises to be one of the most potentially intrusive government entities impinging on the private sector. The new department is charged with processing work permits and immigration applications, while securing “durable employment and opportunities for the advancement of Caymanians through development, training, internship, apprenticeships and partnerships with private sector businesses.”
The brainchild of Premier Alden McLaughlin (why he would claim paternity of this amalgamation is beyond us) is scheduled to gestate for another year before launching in the summer of 2019. WORC’s intended focus is “two inter-related elements: full Caymanian employment and a well-supplied business community that is globally competitive,” according to interim director Sharon Roulstone.
Attempting to coerce companies into hiring employees based on anything other than their individual merit threatens to stifle or destroy the economic prosperity upon which we all rely and, incidentally, the foundation upon which Cayman’s “economic miracle” was built.
Cayman’s immigration law is clear: When a position attracts applications from an expatriate and an equally qualified Caymanian, the job goes to the Caymanian. (From a manager’s perspective, obviously it’s far less costly and troublesome to hire the Caymanian, thus avoiding the entanglements of overseas recruitment and relocation, the lengthy and close-to-extortionate work permit fee structure and other associated costs and frustrations.)
This is not the first, and certainly will not be the last, time we will say it: The government needs to resist the temptation of meddling in Cayman’s businesses.