Cayman’s National Pensions Law “needs more teeth,” Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez declared on Wednesday, when she heard updates on four cases of employers charged with failing to make contributions to a pension plan for employees.
In one case that has been before the court fo 10 years, she commented, “If we had more teeth, this kind of foolishness would not continue.”
She described another case as a striking example of why the law needed teeth – because the employer did not seem to care about paying in a timely manner the monies owed.
The morning got off to a positive start when attorney Charmaine Richter appeared on behalf of Hurlstone Ltd. She shared with Crown counsel Kenneth Ferguson a document showing a particular property for sale. The indication was that the outstanding monies owed would be paid from proceeds of the sale.
Mr. Ferguson confirmed that the original amount owed was $469,024.92 and all had been paid except for $84,024,92.
Ms. Richter asked for an adjournment until January 2019.
The magistrate said she was happy to accede to the request, given the substantial payment made. The matter should be completed by then, since it had been going on since 2011, she noted. But unlike many of the other pension cases she had before her, “I’m pleased with the progress made.”
The magistrate next heard from attorney John Furniss on behalf of Donald Ira Thompson and Precision Landscaping, whose case first came to court in 2008. Mr. Furniss said his client had offered payment of CI$50,000 as far back as November 2015, but the Crown had rejected it.
Mr. Ferguson said the least the Department of Labour and Pensions was prepared to accept was $80,000.
Both counsel referred to Mr. Thompson’s assertion that he had repaid workers who had since returned to Jamaica, but had done so directly and not through the department.
Mr. Ferguson said the amount owed was $122,107.58. He said the Crown was trying to put money in the pockets of the workers concerned.
The magistrate repeated that the law needed more teeth: “We need to get to our legislators,” she said. She pointed to court time wasted and the number of people who had been disadvantaged by employers’ failure to pay pensions.
“In any other form, we would call this theft,” she remarked.
She set the matter for Sept. 20, which gave parties three weeks to sort things out. “I am looking for closure at that time,” she concluded.
Mr. Furniss then called the matter of K-9 Security Service. The court was told that over $100,000 had been paid to the Department of Labour and Pensions. Mr. Furniss said his client was off island for medical reasons and the matter was set for mention again on Sept. 20.
The final case was that of Brent Greene’s Gardening and Landscaping.
Mr. Ferguson said the amount owed was “30-odd thousand dollars” out of the original sum of $46,914. The matter had been before the court since 2010. The magistrate commented that if the sum were a bank loan, it would have been paid by now.
Mr. Greene, who did not have an attorney, referred to his other expenses and explained that he did not have a regular monthly income. He billed his clients at the end of each month, but sometimes did not receive payment until weeks later.
“I just can’t pay till I get the money,” he said, adding, “I know that’s no excuse.”
The magistrate asked if he owned his own home. Told yes, she asked if it had a mortgage. Told no, she asked if Mr. Greene had considered taking out a loan to pay the pension balance.
Mr. Greene indicated that he did not see much difference between paying a bank loan and paying the pension debt.
The magistrate suggested he speak to his bankers. “I suggest you make some arrangement because you’re going to be sentenced on Sept. 20.”