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MORE HELP COMING FOR DISPLACED TOURISM WORKERS

Government 22 Feb, 2022 Follow News

Hon. Minister for Finance and Labour, Chris Saunders

By Staff Writer

 

Tourism workers whose current earnings are still well below pre-pandemic levels are being considered for another uplift to help them 'make ends meet'.

Hon. Minister for Finance and Labour, Chris Saunders, gave that indication during a government press conference on Thursday afternoon, just hours after it was announced that the current programme was itself being extended for another two months.

“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 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.

The amount of that uplift is still being assessed.

 

QUESTIONNAIRE QUESTIONED

The announcement came as the government reported earlier on Thursday that it had reversed a previous decision that would have effectively suspended the stipend programme.

Mr Saunders explained that the way a previous questionnaire evaluating the scheme was worded might have led to incorrect outcomes.

“When people say that they were full time, what we found out in many cases their income, especially those in tourism who received gratuities was not the full-time level. That's when we realised the question (and answers) could have been a little bit different. That's the reason and we corrected it.”

 According to the subsequent government statement - issued prior to Thursday’s press conference, “Following a thorough review of the stipend programme, over 600 former recipients of the Displaced Tourism Employees Stipend have returned to gainful employment and they will now automatically transition to the newly created Tourism Recovery Grant programme which will provide them with two months of financial support at a reduced rate of CI$1,000 for February and CI$750 for March."

The delayed February payments under the recovery grant programme will now be made this Friday February 18th.

The stipend programme has benefitted 2,400 tourism industry workers and 625 recovery grant participants, according to the statement.

Responsibility for administering the tourism stipend programme moved from the Ministry of Tourism & Transport to the Ministry of Border Control & Labour on 1 January 2022. Since then, recipients were asked to respond to a survey seeking to determine their employment status and other vital information "in order to better serve existing needs", the statement said.

It added that in March, all recovery grant participants will be asked to answer a questionnaire on their current status to find out if they can transition out of the grant programme or if further support is needed.

 

ABUSING THE SYSTEM

One issue of concern that has arisen with the stipend programme in its original form has been payments made to persons who would not have qualified for the scheme.

Addressing that matter, Finance and Labour Minister Saunders confirmed that there has been abuse of the system.

The scheme was previously administered by the Ministry of Tourism.

“What we have found since being transferred to the Minister of Border Control and Labour, is that there have been abuses within the system. When the stipend started more than 18 months ago, at the time we were in full lockdown, so some people’s financial situation would have changed since,” Mr Saunders stated.

“For example, we are following cases where employers who have active work permits are submitting work permits for non-Caymanians, paying the work permit fees and actually getting stipends,” he disclosed.

“If you can afford the cost of a work permit, to hire a non-cayman national, I don't see why you should be on the stipend,” Mr Saunders added, qualifying that by saying “that’s just me speaking.”

While he applauded those persons who have voluntarily come off the stipend, Mr Saunders reiterated his displeasure with those who had abused the system.

“Some people have been fully employed back to pre-pandemic levels in terms of income, and they're still pushing to get the stipend. I think that is really immoral. I think it is wrong because there are (other) people who genuinely need help."

Stressing that the vast majority of people were legitimately in need and abided by the rules, the Labour Minister went on to state:

"We are hunting those who would have been a little bit fraudulent within the system. We have people who have already left the island that are still basically getting stipend. We people who are fully employed, we have people who have since joined the civil service, but they are still in the minority."

It was however indicated that in the present circumstances the government is unlikely to aggressively pursue some of those who would have defrauded the scheme.

“I do recognise that people have their own personal challenges,” Mr Saunders stated, “It is a hardship situation and we do recognise that. The whole idea that government will go hunting people like that, it really isn’t worth it. We just want to ask them to do the right thing. It is a small community. The last thing we want to do is name and shame anyone.”

 

MAKING IT WORK

In the previous press statement, Wesley Howell, Chief Officer in the Ministry of Border Control & Labour said the new Tourism Recovery Grant programme, came out of the awareness that some formerly displaced tourism workers will require financial assistance to make ends meet given potentially reduced hours with the tourism industry not being back to its full speed.

He also acknowledged the situation of self-employed tourism business owners who are back to work and considered fully employed but are not operating at their usual capacity, with a significant reduction in revenues.

"We fully understand that being back to work and fully employed does not mean that people are back to their former level of income. It is understood that people will still need some support. To underscore that these people are no longer considered to be displaced workers but are instead part of the industry’s post-pandemic recovery, this support is going to be provided via the Tourism Recovery Grant programme, which will not be solely a financial assistance programme but will also offer training and other employment and business support.”

Tourism stipend recipients who did not complete the original survey sent out in early February have been advised that they will not be processed for payment this week, and have been encouraged to complete the survey at their earliest opportunity, in order to ensure that they have provided their most accurate and up-to-date information to the Ministry of Border Control & Labour.


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