WORC agency to police work permit applications

Bill passed to create new labor agency

Businesses seeking work permits to bring in staff from overseas will face additional scrutiny under a new system aimed at ensuring Caymanians get first shot at employment opportunities in the Cayman Islands.

Employers will be legally required to advertise all job vacancies through a new national “clearing house” website that will allow officials to determine if a Caymanian has the skills for the position before a work permit can be granted, Premier Alden McLaughlin said Monday.

The plan is part of a new system that involves the creation of the Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman agency, which will be responsible for advancing the cause of Caymanians in the workplace.

Legislation to create the new agency, which merges some of the functions of the Immigration Department and the old National Workforce Development Agency into one unit, was passed Monday evening.

The Immigration (Transition) Bill, which was unanimously approved by all legislators present during Monday’s session of the Legislative Assembly, sets out the remit of the new WORC agency. Its responsibilities include training and developing Caymanians for the workforce, helping find work for job-seekers and processing work permit and residency applications.

Introducing the bill, Mr. McLaughlin said successive governments had grappled with the question of how to balance the needs of the islands’ core industries with the desire to ensure Caymanians come first in the job market. He said those efforts had been well intended but had ultimately failed.

“It is time for fundamental reform,” the premier added.

The WORC agency will be tasked with running programs that help Caymanians find and keep employment. It will also work with the private sector to identify skills and training gaps among Caymanian job-seekers and collaborate on programs to help fill those gaps. WORC will also be charged with gathering labor market information and providing analysis that will help government direct resources on training and scholarships.

Some aspects of the new system, including the online jobs portal, were not included in the bill passed Monday. Mr. McLaughlin said the procurement process for the technology side of that portal was still ongoing. He expects further legislation to be brought in the early part of next year but said the transition bill had to be brought now in order for WORC to begin operating in January.

He said the portal would mean that, “instead of advertising vacancies in a local newspaper, employers will be required to post the vacancy on a national clearing house portal and comply with a process that will determine whether there is a Caymanian that has the skills for that position. If employers wish to continue to advertise their jobs in any local media, that is a matter for them; there is no restriction on that, but there will be an absolute requirement to post the position on the new government portal.

“That process will also provide critical data to WORC in relation to labor market needs and skill shortages.”

Later in the debate, Mr. McLaughlin, responding to concerns from George Town Central legislator Kenneth Bryan that the bill does not go far enough to protect Caymanians, said the full legislative framework would be in place next year. The premier also cautioned that it was not the intent of the bill to restrict businesses’ ability to hire the skilled employees they need.

He said, “Anyone who believes the fortunes of this country depend only on Caymanians doesn’t even begin to understand how we got where we are. Yes, only Caymanians can vote. Let there be a significant exodus of foreigners here and see who supports the businesses, who does a lot of work Caymanians won’t do, and see how many Caymanians lose their jobs as a result.”

Without a strong economy, he said, there would be no jobs or opportunities for anyone.

Mr. McLaughlin said his government had got the balance right between ensuring the country stayed on solid economic foundations and preventing discrimination and prejudice against Caymanians in the workplace.

Mr. Bryan said he supported the bill, but that it did not do enough to deal with many of the employment issues experienced by his constituents.

“The truth of this bill is it’s just a merger of parts of the Immigration Department and parts of the NWDA [National Workforce Development Agency],” he said. “There hasn’t been much changes – the changes have yet to come. Why are we talking about how great is it going to be? Until we see the proof in the pudding, it is pointless.”

Mr. Bryan said government was failing to make sure Caymanians came first and urged government to get on with amending the Labour Bill.

Other legislators, including Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller and Deputy Opposition Leader Alva Suckoo, spoke in support of the Immigration (Transition) Bill and the new WORC department.

Mr. Miller said he had long advocated for the separation of the work permit and border control elements of immigration and supported the creation of a human resources authority, similar to what government envisages for WORC. He suggested that the online jobs portal also include details of when existing work permits were expiring and the qualifications and experience of the people in those posts.

Mr. Suckoo said he was philosophically in support of the changes, particularly the jobs portal.

“I am pleased that government is going to move forward with a central clearing house and that the use of that clearing house is going to be mandatory by employers. I have always maintained that in order to make the right decisions when it comes to work permits, the immigration department needed to have better access to employment vacancy information.”