A number of workers have been reporting to the Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman (WORC) office as Cayman closes its borders to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
A number of workers have been reporting to the Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman (WORC) office as Cayman closes its borders to protect against the spread of COVID-19. Photo: Reshma Ragoonath

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Government has said it is considering extending one-off assistance to expatriate workers impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Last week Premier Alden McLaughlin announced one-off payments for those receiving poor relief and ex-gratia payments.

He also announced a $600 incentive for licensed tour operators and taxi-drivers to help cover expenses over the looming difficult economic period due to the closure of borders and the “collapse” of the tourism industry.

McLaughlin, at Friday’s COVID-19 press briefing responding to questions from the Cayman Compass, said government would assist where it can as it relates to expatriate workers.

“We can’t and won’t let people who are here be without a roof over their head or without food,” he said.

He urged affected foreign workers to call the Needs Assessment hotline 946-0024 or send in an email to [email protected] and explain the circumstances “so that we can take the necessary action to ensure that they are looked after for as long as they absolutely have to be here”.

However, he said he hoped employers “would step up to the mark and at a minimum help them through this process if not actually help them financially”.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the Ministry of Community Affairs said it is “actively looking at ways to extend one-off or temporary support to expats in need”.

It said it recognises that employment for work permit holders may be disrupted by the COVID-19, and that they may not be able to leave before the temporary closure of Owen Roberts International Airport on Sunday.

Ministry staff, the statement said, will work over the weekend and into next week to provide guidance and additional information by next Friday on such provisions.

“The Ministry appreciates that this is a uniquely challenging time for everyone in the Cayman Islands. It therefore asks that work permit holders directly affected by the economic consequences of the pandemic be patient while a workable way forward is arranged,” the statement said.

The NAU, it said, “continues to work diligently to assist vulnerable Caymanians.”

Work permit holders in need have been asked to await further notice and guidance.

Governor Martyn Roper said he fully supported the premier’s position to assist all impacted workers.

“I think once we get past this weekend, we are going to find there are probably quite a lot of people who are in a situation which is difficult. Whether it’s not having income or funds or a job. But also, there may be travel needs,” he said.

He said a new travel emergency travel hotline is being set up to help get those who need to leave get off the island.

“I think we need to assess what the issues are and then see what we can do to address some of those, because we have closed our airports and we as a government have an obligation to people who are here as well and we want to see what we can do,” Roper said.

The premier also said that he will be convening discussions next week with caucus and cabinet and proposes to invite the opposition into some of the discussions to talk “more broadly about the economic issues that the country is facing and how we grapple with them”.

McLaughlin said even if pandemic were to come to a halt in a month’s time, what’s happening more broadly to the global economy will take much longer to return to the point anywhere near where it is now.

“We all have to plan and make provision for how we survive what are going to be very lean times, I believe, through the end of the year at least. So, these are issues which I think deserve and warrant national discussion and so we certainly want to involve the opposition in those talks,” he added.

A special meeting is also planned to discuss government finances and how it will get through this period.

Full coverage: Coronavirus

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  1. A number of the seamen and veterans receiving monthly $850 ex gratia payments are wealthy individuals, perhaps in this time of crisis they can offer to have their stipends suspended, to assist Govt with those desperately in need.