Permanent leadership at WORC, ‘fair employment’ board uncertain

A new government department that will administer work permit, residency and labor-related issues may not have permanent leadership until March 2020.

March 11, 2020 is the date when current interim director Sharon Roulstone’s secondment period at Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman, known as WORC, is set to end.

Ms. Roulstone, an attorney and former head of the Work Permit Board, will effectively have a deputy director’s post at Cayman’s newly created Ombudsman Office held open for her until then, according to Ombudsman Sandy Hermiston.

While Ms. Roulstone is serving her secondment, Ms. Hermiston has brought in retired Canadian police superintendent Ted Miles, with whom she worked at the Alberta Ombudsman’s office, to fill the job until the secondment period ends. Ms. Hermiston said Ms. Roulstone will have until the March 2020 date to make her intentions known as to which job she will maintain.

Ms. Hermiston said Monday that she fully supported Ms. Roulstone’s secondment and would be “happy to have her back” if she decides to return.

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Meanwhile, the new WORC agency is expected to be up and running by next year. Early proposals by Premier Alden McLaughlin, who is the minister for human resources and immigration, have indicated that a portion of the Immigration Department staff now used to administratively process work permits and other legal statuses will be subsumed within the new agency.

In addition, the staff currently working at the National Workforce Development Agency will be moved over to the WORC agency.

This will allow the new department to focus on finding job opportunities for unemployed Caymanians, working with the former immigration staff members who will be processing work permits, permanent residence applications, temporary permits, visitors permits and the like.

Ministry of Immigration Chief Officer Wesley Howell explained the role of the new agency in December: “The driving objectives are to ensure that Caymanians are given priority in the workforce, with the ultimate outcome of achieving full employment of Caymanians, while ensuring that businesses in the Cayman Islands have the workforce needed to meet their business goals. An effective change leader is critical to lead the creation of the National Human Resources Department, to implement the vision by driving change in customer service, communications, systems, legislation, processes and technology.”

The remainder of the Immigration Department, which is a law enforcement and border control agency, will be combined with Her Majesty’s Customs service to form a new border control agency. A director for that entity, expected to come into being next year, has not been named.

Premier’s plans

Premier McLaughlin has separately announced plans to create a Fair Employment Commission, an independently staffed government office to deal with complaints from Caymanians who feel they have been discriminated against in the hiring process.

The specifics of this entity – announced in March – are not known. Mr. McLaughlin said that it was meant to serve as a “tool” to supplement current hiring measures. It was suggested that administrative fines could be levied against businesses that have unfair hiring practices. The commission chairperson would likely have to be an experienced lawyer or retired judge, backed by staff with investigative skills, the premier said.

Mr. McLaughlin said the problem must be handled delicately, as both businesses and employees need to believe that such an employment commission is not being politically directed. He suggested that the territorial governor – who is appointed by the U.K. – would therefore be made responsible for appointing a commissioner to lead the new office.

He also noted that many in Cayman’s immigration business, including attorneys and recruiting firms, have noted over the years that there is no recourse under the current law for a Caymanian job applicant who feels he or she has been rejected for a post unfairly.

In contrast, Mr. McLaughlin said local employers and non-Caymanian work permit holders can go to the Immigration Appeals Tribunal if they feel a permit has been wrongly denied. Any worker can also go to the Labour Appeals Tribunal with a complaint against their employer, he said.

“There is no current law to protect Caymanians from discrimination by employers and no process by which Caymanians can officially complain or seek redress against instances of discrimination,” he said.

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