Minister says he will bring minimum wage

| 12/12/2008

(CNS): Despite opposition from some in the hospitality business, Minister Alden McLaughlin says he is determined to implement the minimum wage under an amendment to the existing Labour Law before this parliament comes to an end next March. He said the main stumbling block has been how those working as bartenders and waiting staff would be paid when salaries have traditionally been made up of a combination of basic wages and tips.

“What has complicated it is the issue in the hospitality industry as people get a small salary but then they are paid gratuities on top, which in high season can see staff earn substantial rates but in low season they may get very little. The reality is the employers in the restaurant and bar business have traditionally relied heavily on the gratuities to subsidise wages, and so it is to be expected that they will continue to resist a flat fee minimum wage,” said McLaughlin, who has responsibility for employment.

He explained, however, that talks with the Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA) had revealed the possibility of a formula that the industry could be persuaded to accept. He said they might accept some sort of combination, whereby the staff would be guaranteed a minimum wage but in high season it could be made up of gratuities as well as the minimal salary offered by the restaurant or bar.

“I intend to see that this amendment to the Labour Law is made before the next election. No matter what happens, I will do this,” he said. The minister would not be drawn on what the figure for the minimum wage would be, but he has said in the past that it would be nothing like the high figures that some people would want.

He also said the minimum wage was not going to resolve all Cayman’s employment ills. Given the revelation in this week’s Strategic Policy Statement that the workforce was still growing but the number of Caymanians out of work had also risen, McLaughlin said there was no quick fix to the issue. He noted that the problem was a result of the worsening economic situation, where marginal workers were the first casualties.

“There is no magic solution to this problem and there will always be tensions when you have such a high reliance on foreign labour. When you try and regulate or make it more expensive to hire people, there will always be push back from the business community. Given that the cost of doing business went up this year, everybody is looking for ways to cut costs and that may mean reducing labour costs and cutting jobs,” he said.

However, he rumours that only three Caymanians were working on one of the government projects sites was total fabrication, he noted. There had been accusations, however, that some of the sub-contractors on one of the sites were not paying full pensions and health insurance, which was being investigated, and the Minister said it was the responsibility of the general contractor to ensure that the firms it used were legitimate and adhering to labour regulations.



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