Business staffing plans should be public : Cayman News Service

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Cayman News Service

Ezzard Miller in the LA (Photo by Dennie Warren Jr)

(CNS): The public needs to have access to business staffing plans so they can see exactly how local companies are hiring, training, promoting or firing Caymanians, the independent member for North Side has stated. Ezzard Miller has tabled a private member’s motion that he hopes will be the first step towards real transparency and allow the public a much broader understanding of what is really happening among the islands’ largest employers.

Miller said the people are being misled by government and other commentators promoting the idea that when work permit numbers increase, job opportunities for locals increase. The MLA said it was a myth being perpetuated and he wondered, if more work permits were not taking jobs from locals then who, exactly, were the jobs being taken from.

“Arguments that work permits generate more jobs for local people are flawed,” he told CNS.

As the debate surrounding unemployment and employability becomes increasingly acrimonious,  government is battling with inaccurate figures regarding the unemployed, ongoing lay-offs in the face of rising permit numbers, ever-more employer infractions of the labour law, and what some say is the biggest problem of all –depressed wages.

Transparency is now being heralded as one of the solutions and government has plans to implement a new system at immigration that will increase this. Employment Minister Tara Rivers has also called for much more transparency surrounding the actual job vacancies that exist, including those held by permit holders.

The issue was brought into sharp focus when a handful of major employers in the financial sector were able to suppress a freedom of information request that would have shed light on the current situation regarding employers and permits. Ernst and Young led a group of firms in a successful injunction gagging the local press and preventing publication of the details, as they claim the salary information of individuals could have been deduced from the documentation, which was a spreadsheet of all the permits held by employers, including the nationality of the holders, the posts and the earnings.

However, Miller says this is exactly the kind of information that needs to be public so that people can see if employers and the boards are following the law when it comes to the application for and the granting of permits.

“Salaries are already public knowledge anyway as they must be included in job advertisements relating to permits,” he pointed out, as he urged government to back the publication of this type of human resource information.

He said access to business staffing plans would explode the myth and said his own research has revealed that firms with large numbers of managers on permits don’t necessarily create support posts for locals. Miller pointed to one medium-sized firm that had permits for 30 secretaries — an inexplicable situation when so many local people qualified as secretaries were on the market.

The MLA is also concerned that the Economics and Statistics Office is not accurately reflecting the real unemployment figures. He says the claim that it is running at 6% overall is distorted because, with just 55% of the workforce being Caymanian, there should be no unemployed locals, so the unemployment figure cannot be a reflection of the entire labour market but only local workers. As a result, Miller said, the real unemployment rate among Caymanians is more like 11%.  He said figures were being dumbed down to help government look better and the systems to help locals were falling short.

With no affirmative action, law employers are simply able to apply for permits, he said. He said he has also been led to believe, via documentation he has seen, that in the immediate wake of the recent NWDA/CITA job drive, which caused considerable controversy, over 100 permits were granted to the employers involved. With a restaurant on Seven Mile Beach holding permits for 20 food and beverage servers, he asked why the 87 locals cleared by CITA and the NWDA did not get those jobs.

“Government needs to begin cancelling permits until all Caymanians who are actively looking for work have a suitable job,” Miller told CNS. “It has to deliver a firm message that local workers need to be employed. Until the day comes and government accepts their responsibility through the work permit process to ensure every Caymanian can get access to the jobs available, employers will continue to dodge their legal obligation in favour of cheap labour.”

Miller argues that permits can be cancelled before they end and that anytime that a qualified and suitable local workers shows up, the employer is obligated to replace the permit holder. He said the fact that an employer can get rebates on permits demonstrates the legislators’ intention with the immigration law. He said transparency and making business staffing plans public would enable those looking for work to truly see what’s available and what qualifications or experience the permit holders have to ensure they can match them.

“Being able to see what positions and when they are available will give Caymanians the chance to meet the criteria of the job descriptions and be ready when the position will be available,” Miller said. “This requires much more honesty from employers but it needs government to go beyond that.”

He said it was impossible for volunteer boards to deal with 22,000 permits.

“You can’t look at 500 applications one day a week and have the system work properly. The business staffing plan board is no longer fit for purpose. What we need now is a paid fulltime board, and enforcement officers working for it and enforcing the law,” Miller said.

Illustrating his point, he said that both he and East End MLA Arden McLean had recently contacted the board with concerns about specific employers but neither of them had received a response nor were their concerns documented by the board in any of its minutes.

“If two sitting members of parliament can’t get the board’s attention, how can a regular worker hope to get the board to listen?” he asked.

The independent member said government’s recent announcements about plans for a more transparent system would be a step in the right direction but he was concerned about them following through.

“We have been promised significant improvements for years; the previous employment minister promised to solve everything but we are still waiting,” he added.

Miller said the people were frustrated over the lack of enforcement but more transparency, he believes, would show clearly where the law was being bent or circumvented.

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