Hundreds of Caymanians filled the Lions Centre Wednesday morning seeking temporary jobs through the National Community Enhancement (NiCE) winter project.
By 10am, the event had attracted more than 700 people.
The project is led by the Ministry of Commerce, Planning and Infrastructure and delivered by the Public Works Department, the National Roads Authority, the Department of Environmental Health and the Mosquito Research and Control Unit.
Minister Joey Hew said the numbers looked about the same as in the summer. This is the second NiCE programme to be run this year. In the summer project, for which 486 people signed up, workers were involved in cleaning up the influx of sargassum that has plagued local beaches, among other clean-up work.
In last year’s winter programme, 518 people registered and 343 ultimately worked on the initiative.
Hew said statistics showed that unemployment in the Cayman Islands is just over 3%, which the rest of the world considers full employment.
He said some of the people at the Lions Centre were retirees who still had the strength in their bodies to go out and work and give back to the community. Others, he said, were between jobs and some may have experienced setbacks.
Hew said just that morning he had spoken to one young man who he knew had been in trouble over the summer, so signing up for the NiCE project was an opportunity for him to show the community and potential employers that he was willing to get back on the right track and restore his life.
He said the MRCU had come on board for the Christmas programme so that people could assist it with clean-up efforts to try and fight the spread of mosquito-borne dengue fever.
Some people who signed up for the work project lamented that more employment was not available.
“It’s just for three weeks for the year. How can we exist off that?” asked North Side resident Joseph Ebanks, who was among those registering for the temporary work. “It should be more often.”
Another registrant, Dale Whittaker, said this was his first time seeking a job with the NiCE programme. “It’s a great opportunity,” he said, adding that he hoped the government would continue offering work.
“It’s hard but it’s handy and we appreciate it. I think [the government] should do it longer,” said Darcy Ruth Ebanks, who said she is retired and has bills to pay.
“We need something more permanent,” said another worker, Anthony Scott.
George Town Central MLA Kenneth Bryan, who attended the sign-up session on Wednesday, said he found it sad that the crowd of people looking for work appeared to be growing larger.
He said what he had seen at the Lions Centre on Wednesday disputed the government’s narrative that things were getting better and unemployment numbers were going down.
“Unfortunately, the number here today do not show that. Based on the count that I did, there are over 750 people,” Bryan said.
He said a lot of people were not coming to sign up for temporary work because of a lack of advertising about the initiative. “The government is not pushing it hard enough,” Bryan added.
“We are playing politics with this; we are not solving the problem and we’re doing this over and over again. We are bandaging the problem and not really getting these people any hope for their lives to sustain their own families in proper work,” he said.
Bryan said there are still a lot of Caymanians out of work and they needed to reduce the number of work permits.
“Over 700 people without work and we have over 30,000 work permits,” Bryan said.
The winter NiCE project will run from 26 Nov. to 14 Dec.