Out-of-work tourism industry staff anxious about the future of their stipend payments could have answers in the coming weeks.
With Cayman now fully reopened in Phase 5 for travel, except cruises, the status of the continuation of the CI$1,500 per month stipend payments has become a matter of concern for many recipients.
The tourism stipend payments introduced by the previous Progressives administration when Cayman went into COVID-19 lockdown, has been continued by the current PACT government.
The scheme, previously run by Hon. Minister for Tourism Kenneth Bryan - and under the same portfolio in the previous Progressives government - has now been transferred to the Ministry of Labour which is part of the portfolio of the Hon. Finance Minister Chris Saunders.
At one point it was estimated that 87% of Cayman’s 3,107 displaced tourism workers were receiving the tourism stipend as they were either completely unemployed or working less than 30-hours a work.
It’s currently being re-evaluated in line with the decision to go to Phase full border reopening with changes likely to be instituted by next month.
A hoped-for uptick in the economy this year would mean that fewer workers might need to be registered for the payment. In the interim, no further registrations are being accepted while the review is ongoing and business activity, especially employment uptake is monitored.
When he presented the national budget in November last year, Minister of Finance and Labour Chris Saunders announced an allocation of CI$60 million for the stipend to assist displaced workers in the tourism industry.
Giving an update on the status of current payments and the future of the scheme, Hon. Minister of Tourism Kenneth Bryan, said he had received confirmation that the regular payments had already been made for January.
“As for the civil service policy to pay them a little bit earlier in the month of January to the Christmas stipend and expenses and so forth, I've been advised that they will be doing a reassessment in February to try to see who has been back to work, and what's the best steps moving forward to ensure those who are in need still get it and those who don't need can now be removed from that list,” he said.
Mr Bryan had also approved a special Christmas one-off uplift of CI$500 on top of the regular stipend payments of CI$1,500. That followed an earlier addition to the previous budget last July of CI$27.5 million to extend the tourism stipend payments to the end of 2021.
With Cayman now fully reopened (except for cruise tourism) having met the ultimate Phase 5 criteria set by the government, the expectation is that economic activity will gradually improve resulting in more people returning to work and more job opportunities being created. But that is not expected to materialise overnight.
An announcement on January 11th had advised of the change of ministry for the stipend programme, advising that “the Displaced Tourism Employees Stipend Programme, launched and managed by the Ministry and Department of Tourism, is being managed by the Ministry of Border Control and Labour with effect from 1 January 2022.”
It also stated that “in the coming weeks the programme will be reviewed and additional needs assessments will be conducted. Recipients will be advised by the end of next week of the new programme requirements to remain eligible for funding.”
New applications for the stipend programme are not being accepted at this time, the statement said.
Addressing the future of the scheme in response to a question from Caymanian Times publisher Ralph Lewis during last week’s government press conference, Tourism Minister Bryan said: “We've decided to move the stipend responsibility payments to the Ministry of Border Control and Labour because we found it better suited to be with the Ministry of Labour because technically speaking the stipend is unemployment grants been specified specifically to the Ministry of Tourism.”
He went on to explain that “as a result as we transition our people back into work and take them off at the stipend, we feel that the (Labour) ministry would be best suited to do that and have the expertise necessary.”
The stipend programme has been the subject of much debate and speculation across the political spectrum - including last year’s election campaign - over the amount of the monthly payments, the eligibility criteria and whether or not persons who did not qualify were collecting payments.
In a government release last year, Hon. Premier Wayne Panton was quoted as saying that the PACT Government has every intention of ensuring that those in the tourism industry 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.
“This PACT Government has done more to promote and protect the interests of the people of this country in four months than the previous administration did in the last four years,” Mr Panton said.
“Just as we are monitoring the uptake of the COVID vaccine, we are also monitoring the hiring and placement of tourism workers in other jobs. At some point, the stipend will no longer be needed. Until then, those in the tourism sector who are without work can depend on the Government to continue providing support,” he added.
27 Jan, 2020
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