Premier Wayne Panton has confirmed that his PACT government plans to continue paying displaced tourism workers a monthly stipend “until it is no longer needed”, but that a tapering off of the payments will happen as tourists return following the border reopening.
Panton issued a statement Tuesday night in the wake of a comment made by Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan on Radio Cayman’s ‘For the Record’ that an announced plan to halve the stipend in November and December was a “scare tactic” to incentivise recipients to look for jobs as the border reopening approached.
Bryan later said he had made a poor choice of words, and that the government originally had intended to reduce the payments, but that as it became clear that tourism would not be returning to the levels anticipated by the end of the year, that decision was reversed, but not publicly announced.
The premier said, in his statement, that Bryan had “gotten caught up in the moment of being on the radio and fielding questions from callers”.
“Our Minister of Tourism is doing a great job and taking care of our people within the industry,” Panton said. “His indication that the stipend was to be reduced to incentivize people to get jobs was a mis-step. He was seeking to express his desire to both support tourism workers and motivate them to seek ways to help themselves. He is a human being who like all of us will occasionally be a little less than perfect.”
Opposition leader Roy McTaggart on Tuesday said Bryan and the government had pulled a “cruel hoax” by misleading the public about plans to reduce the stipend. Panton, however, argued that government had originally intended to “taper” the payments at the end of the year, and said he had made this clear in his winding up speech after the Strategic Policy Statement to Parliament in July.
At the time, he said, “Our aim with the current COVID-19 tourism worker stipend is to continue aid until it is no longer needed. And our intention is that the tourism industry will be back up and running again in time for our traditional high season in November – which is when we plan to taper the stipend payments – with the idea being that displaced Caymanians will be back at work at that time doing what they love and taking advantage of those opportunities.”
Panton said that the PACT government intended to ensure that tourism workers are taken care of until the industry gets back on its feet, but confirmed that government “will be tapering off the stipend payments as the industry re-grows”.