CHAMBER PRESIDENT PRIORITISES JOBS
Employment, especially jobs for Caymanians, is a recurring theme occupying the minds of workers, businesses, government leaders and politicians.
That was also evident in Friday’s Chamber of Commerce 3rd Annual Economic Summit held online for the first time this year.
Unemployment in Cayman is forecast to reach almost 7% this year (at 6.9% that’s more than double the 2019 projection).
With an improvement to 5.1% expected by next year as the economy gradually recovers, that’s still far removed from the low of 3.5% that was projected last year.
It’s a concern noted by President of the Chamber of Commerce, Woody Foster in his presentation at Friday’s 3rd Annual Chamber of Commerce Economic Conference - held virtually this year - and which drew wide representation from the private sector and government.
He said the Chamber supports the strategy of retraining and retooling displaced workers to enable them to transition from one sector to another, but prioritising Caymanian workers in the process.
Noting that this process could be lengthy in some cases, the Chamber president proposed that “if necessary, formal plans are put in place with companies to ensure that in cases where a Caymanian has been identified and is entering into a formal training programme, that a succession plan for that Caymanian is put in place with one of the companies with a work permit position.”
According to Chamber of Commerce president Foster, “Many of the initiatives proposed by the government in its plan, needs to ensure it is sufficiently resourced with the most effective workforce. This will mean facilitating the return of work permit holders and those most needed by local businesses seeking to stabilize their businesses during this crucial phase.”
In that respect, the Chamber is calling on the government to ensure that the Workforce Opportunities & Residency Cayman (WORC) agency is adequately resourced.
Falling that, it fears that some businesses may decide to continue the practice of repositioning businesses/jobs to other jurisdictions.
“Once these businesses leave our shores, it is highly unlikely that they will return,” the Chamber’s president warned.
That was acknowledged by Hon. Minister of Finance Roy McTaggart, who gave a commitment to prioritise jobs for Caymanians.
“Thousands of persons have left our Islands since March and admittedly the loss of the spend from these individuals will have a negative impact on the economy. But as businesses are re-emerging from the shutdown, and start to rebuild, the Government is insisting that the re-employment of Caymanians must come first.”
Mr McTaggart said, “This will help move unemployed Caymanians back into jobs and facilitate the circulation of funds locally. We hope that the local business community will also see the value in this and support our Administration’s effort to ensure the employment of our citizens and residents.”
The jobs theme was also prominent when Chamber president Foster addressed the issue of “the fallout in the tourism sector”.
With the reopening of the borders pushed back to October 1st and with the current situation in the United States, Mr Foster is of the view that “it is likely that there may be thoughts of a further extension to the closure of our borders.”
According to the Chamber president, “We must find a prudent, safe way to bring in long term residents, long term tourists/workers etc so that we can introduce new money into the economy.”
He felt that staycations and the financial sector cannot sustain the country for too much longer. At this stage, he reckoned, “the economic recovery within this sector has become a great challenge.”
Mr Foster said a detailed plan to address the transition of workers to other sectors “should be established and implemented as a matter of urgency.”
At the same time, he said the Chamber is also recommending that the government considers delaying some of the previously planned capital expenditures to assist the unemployed in this sector during what could be another extended period, possibly up to the end of this year.
“We believe that consideration should be given to allocating some of this planned capital expenditure towards continued unemployment support as well as retraining and repurposing for tourism-related sectors especially now that Government has decided to keep the port closed to cruise tourism until 31st December 2020.”
The seaport closure was confirmed by the Hon. Deputy Premier and Minister for Tourism Moses Kirkconnell in a recorded video message during the Chamber’s virtual forum.
CHAMBER: NO NEW TAXES ON BUSINESS
Meanwhile, with the Hon. Minister of Finance Roy McTaggart forced to clarify statements surrounding taxation, the Chamber president also cautioned against government proposals which he felt could “negatively impact businesses bottom line”.
“There should be no additional taxes levied on businesses at this time,” Mr Foster advised, referring to the government’s stimulus plan which he felt contained several proposals that would negatively impact businesses financially.
“While we appreciate the significant decline in Government revenue due to the pandemic, all efforts must be taken to avoid increasing taxes or fees on businesses and consumers.”
The Chamber leader proposed instead that government look inwards for savings.
“We must balance creating employment opportunities to keep people employed while trimming non-essential government services and expenditure.”
According to the Chamber president, “Not getting this right over the medium to long term could lead to disastrous decisions by our Government.”
During the Chamber’s economic forum, Finance Minister McTaggart was adamant in dispelling any suggestion that the government was considering introducing direct taxation.
“Ladies and Gentlemen let me assure you that the Government is not contemplating any change to its well established fiscal strategy of no new taxes, paying down debt and managing expenditure to produce significant budget surpluses,” he affirmed.
THE POLITICS OF IT
The Chamber of Commerce has been central to the planning of the government’s post-COVID economic strategy. With 2021 a critical year for the recovery process coupled with the elections cycle, the private sector grouping indicated it was an engagement it was keen to continue.
“The Chamber can help to frame the national dialogue leading up to the next election so that aspiring political leaders understand our concerns and share their solutions on the campaign trail.”
Mr Foster opined: “It is important that we elect political leaders who are capable and dedicated to helping us not only to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic but address some of these nagging issues that remain unresolved. Again, it is our job to not just think about today, but how our decisions today may affect our future.”
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