Government members on Thursday voted down two Opposition motions aimed at reviewing the impact of early pension withdrawals during COVID and a call to increase vacation leave for workers.
Both private members’ motions were filed by Bodden Town West MLA Chris Saunders at Thursday’s sitting of the Legislative Assembly.
In the first motion, Saunders sought government support to establish a select committee to review the impact of the changes to the National Pensions Law, which allowed for withdrawals and a pension holiday.
The motion also sought a resolution to make recommendations to ensure the “adequacy and viability of the pension funds to meet the future retirement needs of residents before 20 Feb., 2021” and asked for consideration of implementing disability benefits for employees.
Saunders said that while he supported the pension changes during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was important to review the impact of the withdrawal of almost $400 million from local pensions.
“We still have a responsibility to ensure that the impact of legislation that is passed is in the best interest over the long run. The truth is that, even prior to the amendment to the National Pensions Law, our pensions system had challenges,” he said.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, who has advocated for pension reform, said this was not the time to engage in this process.
Government, he said, is in the final stages of appointing a new National Pensions Board that will be tasked with recommending policy changes in respect to the national pension system.
“The message from their elected representatives should not be we are going to put more pressure on you because we’re not worried so much about you surviving now; we want to make sure you have a pension when you retire in 20 years or 30 years. If you don’t live through this time, you’re not going to be 60 years old,” he argued.
Opposition members, including Leader Arden McLean, came to the defence of Saunders and his motion, saying that the premier was playing politics with the issue.
The motion was eventually voted down, with nine government members voting against the motion and five Opposition members in favour. Four members were absent.
Saunders, in his motion to increase vacation leave, called on government to amend the Labour Law to increase minimum vacation entitlement in the private sector by five days. The law currently entitles employees to a minimum of 10 days’ vacation leave a year.
He said he thought it was time to start having the conversation about what Cayman will look like post-COVID-19 and “what it is that we want Cayman to be”.
He added that it was not the intention of the motion to increase costs for businesses but to increase the health and longevity of their employees.
He said a 15-day minimum vacation leave entitlement for private sector workers would bring Cayman in line with international standards.
The motion also sought a resolution for government to consider increasing vacation leave for public sector employees.
McLaughlin said the motion is not one his government could support, as it would increase the burden on small businesses that are struggling to survive.
“I want to suggest that it is not in the best interest of anyone at this stage that additional financial burdens are placed on businesses because it’s going to discourage them from hiring more people and it may actually cause them, as Butterfield Bank is now doing, to lay off significant numbers of people,” the premier said.
Saunders countered that he was proposing that the changes be made next year.
The motion was voted down.