The exact salaries of Cayman Islands legislators and high-ranking government officials remains unknown, but the public can approximate the earnings of elected leaders through recently released data.
Numbers provided last month by the Portfolio of the Civil Service and Cabinet, through a Cayman Compass freedom of information request, provide a salary range and allowances paid to members of the Legislative Assembly and other officials.
The premier and the governor capture the top government salaries, falling between $183,504 and $218,112 a year.
Both earn additional allowances, including $17,712 paid to the governor annually for personal expenses.
Premier Alden McLaughlin is paid an additional $42,000 annually as an entertainment allowance. As a government minister, he is also paid between $48,000 and $96,000 annually as a ‘constituency allowance’.
Each MLA is paid between $24,000 and $96,000 per year, with larger allowances going to ministers and representatives from the Sister Islands.
Average Cayman Islands wages
The subject of government earnings arose on 25 May during a COVID-19 press briefing. When questioned if ministers intended to take pay cuts in response to the crisis, McLaughlin rejected the notion.
“I’m not sure where this idea that ministers and MLAs are so well paid comes from,” the premier said.
“I can tell you this. Almost 20 years since I left my firm, I earn less as premier now than I did then in actual dollars, not counting the inflation and whatever else has occurred, cost-of-living increases, since then. So, for people who believe that somehow this is a cushy job, you got another think coming.”
The Cayman Compass filed a freedom of information request the next day to fact-check the premier’s response. The requested salary information was provided after two months, on 26 July.
Before the beginning of the COVID-19 health crisis, half of Cayman’s workforce earned less than $44,004.
The data, released by the Economics and Statistics Office in June 2019, reflects information gathered during the Occupational Wage Survey 2017.
The minimum wage in the Cayman Islands remains at $6 an hour for most employees (excluding live-in household domestics and workers earning a commission, who are paid a minimum of $4.50 an hour). For those who work 40 hours a week all 52 weeks of the year, $6 an hour equates to $12,480 annually – between about 14 and 17 times less than the premier’s and governor’s base salaries.
While the full unemployment and wage impact of the current crisis is still unknown, a recent Chamber of Commerce report indicated more than 5,600 Caymanians and more than 5,000 non-Caymanians could lose their jobs in 2020 as a result of COVID-19.
Minister and MLA earnings
The next highest category of government salaries is paid to ministers, the speaker of the house, the deputy governor and the deputy premier. Their base salaries fall between $174,636 and $212,772.
Councillors also receive an extra payment. In addition to their constituency allowance, they receive $2,000 a month, or $24,000 a year, as a ‘duty allowance’ – approximately double the earnings of an annual minimum-wage salary.
So, how do Cayman Islands government salaries compare to elsewhere?
In the fellow British Overseas Territory of Bermuda, where cost of living and population size are similar to Cayman, salaries of high-ranking officials have been made public and searchable online.
The Cayman Islands premier and governor appear to earn higher salaries than their Bermudian counterparts, who are paid approximately $169,973 and $171,067, respectively, based on current exchange rates.
The Cayman Islands speaker of the house earns up to three times the amount of his counterpart’s salary, listed as $67,725 annually.
Members of the Legislative Assembly are also getting a better deal than Bermuda’s legislators, who start at $56,023, compared to the range of $121,212 to $155,148 in Cayman.