Hundreds of jobless Caymanians packed into the Lions Centre Monday to sign up for government’s summer work program.
From next week, they will be paid $10 an hour to clean beaches and roadsides as part of the National Community Enhancement program. It is the first time the program, designed to give unemployed people a week’s work and some cash in their pocket, has been held in the summer.
Almost 500 people, spanning a broad section of the community, signed up. While some were grateful for the opportunity to earn some money, others said the program was not a long-term fix and called for more to be done about Cayman’s unemployment issues.
For 57-year-old Lennie Earl Jackson, waiting in line Monday, whenever the community clean up program comes around it is a welcome boost.
“It’s hard for me to get a job because of the insurance costs at my age,” said Mr. Jackson, a veteran of previous community work programs. “They don’t want someone my age. Sometimes I get a little side thing but it is not enough to get by.”
He said he was a hard worker and hoped he could get a full-time job through this program.
Single mother Christina Lynch waited in line along with her eldest children, age 3 and 5. She said she has registered with the National Workforce Development Agency and recently worked as an intern with the Passport2Success program, but has been unable to find long-term employment.
“It would be very good to get something full time,” she said. “I have three kids to look after, so it is hard to do certain shifts, but I will take anything that is going.”
According to Minister Joey Hew, the program aims to help people who have been unemployed for a long time acclimatize to the world of work. He said the best workers could put themselves in the frame for full-time jobs with the government departments involved – the National Roads Authority, the Department of Environmental Health and the Public Works Department.
Mr. Hew acknowledged the program did not provide a long-term solution for unemployment in Cayman but said it would help make a difference for some people.
For Brian Rankine, the program is an opportunity to take another step on his road to recovery from drug addiction. Mr. Rankine has been three months sober and is in a rehabilitation program in West Bay. He wants to get some work experience, and to raise funds for medical tests and to take a safety management course that he hopes will lead to steady employment.
“I think it is a great program and a benefit to the community,” he said.
Audrey Bodden said she still needed to work, despite entering her later years, and wants to see government do more to help Caymanians get full employment.
“I came out of high school with seven O Levels and I still know everything I knew then,” Ms. Bodden said. “I am 64 but I am still fit and ready to work. I don’t have a pension or retirement savings so I need to work.”
She said she was concerned to see so many people out looking for work.
“It is a sin. When you look at the ages of the people here, people with kids. Government really needs to do whatever they can to change the law. People can’t survive on two weeks work,” she said.
Others expressed disappointment that the program was no substitute for a full-time job.
“I need a good job, not just for two weeks but 365 days a year,” said Clayburn Ebanks, 44.
“I need money to buy toilet paper, food, water, things to live. I can’t do any lifting after getting injured on the job, but I can answer telephones and do other jobs. I feel really left out in my own country … prison, graveyard, starvation, that’s what’s left for Caymanians.”
Former seafarer Rayburn Ebanks, 78, added, “I’m supposed to license and insure my car and I can’t do it, things not too hot.” Mr. Ebanks makes a living by selling local produce on the roadside.
“I receive a little seaman’s pension but that goes directly to the bank to pay the mortgage, food and other living expense I have to find,” he said, adding that he signed up for the work program to make ends meet. “Things are really bad.”
Mr. Ebanks shook his finger at the government. “When they want your vote, they know to give you their phone number, after they get in, they don’t answer the phone and tell you it’s government budget that’s at fault,” he said.
Kadesha McFarlane, 24, from East End, said she recently had a child and needed money.
“There needs to be more schools for young Caymanians that have kids to go and learn skills or trades to help them get on.”
Arlene Parker, from West Bay, said she had been out of work for a year. She said she had previously worked in the tourism industry but was made redundant by the tour company she worked for.
“I like working with people,” she said. “I like working in tourism but I will take anything I can get right now.”
Minister Hew said he believed the numbers were lower than when the same program was held at Christmas.
“We want to see low numbers,” he said. “We hope all those who are unemployed and want to work do come out, but we want to see those numbers dwindling.”
“A lot of people criticize the program saying it is not what we should be doing, but there are some people who for one reason or another just can’t keep full-time employment, and this is also an opportunity for them to assist their kids, grandkids, getting back to school. It is also a great opportunity for us to prepare some of our areas ahead of hurricane season and for a little bit of a face-lift ahead of what should be an amazing tourism season,” the minister said.
George Town Central legislator Kenneth Bryan attended the event along with several of his constituents. He said it was a “bittersweet situation.”
“It is good to see a lot of Caymanians have come out to take advantage of the opportunity but sadly this is twice a year now and it gives me an indication that we are going in the wrong direction in respect of helping these individuals,” he said. “The way the economy is going right now, we would expect to have to do this less rather than more.”
He said he would like to see more pressure placed on businesses to give opportunities to Caymanians, particularly amid a construction boom. He also wants to see more money diverted to short-term training programs to provide unemployed people with skills to get full-time work.