President of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, Marc Langevin, feels the government’s stipend scheme for displaced tourism workers should be extended to support employees not yet back in full employment.
Mr Langevin was making his second appearance on the Caymanian Times weekly discussion programme, The Panel, when he made the suggestion.
“It is very important that government maintains the stipend to support those employees,” he urged the PACT administration.
With the borders now fully reopened - and cruise ship calls now due to restart this month (March) - hotels and other sectors of the tourism industry are looking to gear up their operations to welcome guests.
However the CITA president said while he is optimistic about the outlook for the industry, at present they are facing several challenges including staffing numbers - and even limited numbers of work hours and tips/gratuity earnings available the reduced staff currently on the job.
“We had a conversation last week with our employees and even if they come back to work right now, they still deserve to receive the stipend because they don't do the full 40 hours or 50 hours, explained Mr Langevin, who is also the general manager of the Ritz Carlton hotel.
He also relayed that there is anxiety among workers who are faced with making the judgement between returning to a job for which they might earn less due to fewer hours and tips and giving up a job they might have obtained during the slowdown in tourism. For them he said, the core calculation is making ends meet.
“There is a fear that if they go back into tourism, they're going to lose the job that they have right now,” he said.
“They were very afraid because last week when they received notification that their stipend would be removed, they panic because they cannot pay their bills. And the danger would be that they could find another job because they are not returning to work right now (in tourism)... And they're not going to come as long as the business is not stabilized…until the hotel reaches a certain level.”
According to Mr Langevin, low hotel occupancy rates at present mean that the industry is not likely to return anything resembling pre-pandemic status before the next peak season starting in November and rolling over to 2023. However, an increase in tourist numbers is expected for Spring Break, the summer season and the return of foreign property owners.
Just recently, the PACT government announced an interim extension of the stipend programme reversing a previous decision that would have effectively suspended the scheme in last month.
Hon. Minister of Finance and Labour Chris Saunders had announced that tourism workers whose current earnings are still well below pre-pandemic levels are being considered for another uplift to help them 'make ends meet'.
“We do recognise that it will take some people a while to catch back to where they were,” he said referring to workers whose earnings are normally supplemented by tips and gratuities.
Mr Saunders had explained that even though some have returned to work, the tourism industry has not yet picked up to the point where their pay is on par with their previous earnings, despite working the same number of hours.
“As such, we are prepared at this point to go back to the Finance Committee and say to the Members of Parliament that it will need additional funding for especially for people in the cruise industry which will not be back at 100% of where it was,” he stated.