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OPPOSITION CHALLENGES STIPEND REVIEW

Government 18 Feb, 2022 Follow News

OPPOSITION CHALLENGES STIPEND REVIEW

The opposition Progressives party has called on the government to review its decision to reduce the stipend payments to tourism workers.

Leader of the Progressives, Roy McTaggart, has urged the PACT administration “to reconsider and do the right thing for over 600 Caymanian families and assess their situation individually before making any reductions.”

Under the revised scheme announced on Thursday, the government said over 600 former recipients of the Displaced Tourism Employees Stipend have returned to gainful employment will now automatically transition to the newly created Tourism Recovery Grand programme.

“That 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 previous stipend was CI$1500 monthly,” it stated.

Hon. Minister for Finance and Labour, Chris Saunders, explained during a government press conference on Thursday that in the process of evaluating the scheme, several discrepancies were uncovered in a previous questionnaire that stipend recipients were required to complete. Hence, the decision to adjust and extend the programme which was on the verge of being suspended after being in operation since early 2020.

NOT IMPRESSED

But the leader of the Progressives, former finance minister, Roy McTaggart, is not impressed by the government’s handling of the matter.

“I suppose this revised plan is better than the initial one to cut people off entirely with no chance for even an assessment. But it is hardly fair,” he argued in a press release.

“I would have preferred that the Government take the opposite approach and assess the 600 plus recipients to determine their individual circumstances before making random cuts. No one would want the Government to provide a stipend to someone who is now fully employed in a regular job and making sufficient money to care for their families and pay their mortgage and other commitments. We can agree that.”

But he went on to make the point that “the review process must be correct, and it must be fair to ensure that Government is doing right by people whose lives have been turned upside down.”

The Progressives leader recalled that “less than a month ago, I lamented that the Government was failing Caymanian families and businesses in the tourism sector. At the time, both newspapers reported on public doubts about the continuation of stipend assistance for families and the financial support for small businesses struggling with a slow tourism recovery. Members of the Opposition were also receiving calls of concern. And so, I spoke out. The Government said we were wrong.”

But according to Mr McTaggart, “Yet on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, members of the Opposition received several messages from constituents telling us that their tourism stipend was being stopped. Apparently, after completing another tourism stipend survey, they were now deemed to be in 'full-time employment' and no longer qualified as a displaced tourism worker. Without the stipend assistance, they said they would struggle to support their families.”

He said he is sure that the elected Government members received similar calls and messages of alarm, adding that “I understand that there were concerned and angry constituents at the Government Administration Building on Wednesday.”

Further questioning the PACT government’s abrupt change of plan to extend rather than terminate the stipend programme, Mr McTaggart noted:

“And so, one day later, on Thursday, February 17th, there is a press release from the Deputy Premier backtracking and promising the over 600 persons impacted that he would not cut them off entirely as he had planned. Rather than receiving the usual monthly stipend of $1,500 they will receive $1,000 in February and $750 in March. After which, they will be assessed yet again.”

EMPATHY EMPHASISED

Mr Taggart concluded that Minister of Finance and Labour Chris Saunders “should have…given sufficient consideration and empathy to those 600 and more tourism workers who have been negatively impacted – even if they are now employed or partly employed.”

Referring to Mr Saunders in his capacity of Deputy Premier, the Opposition leader stated: “The fact that the Deputy Premier was prepared to remove them altogether before the hue and cry began, illustrates that he did not think this through sufficiently. He provided no actual updated statistics, so how certain can he be that their current “full employment” provides them sufficient income? Particularly as we are entering a period of increasing cost of living.”

He maintained that “Government should have interviewed the impacted stipend recipients first to determine whether their circumstances warranted the continuation of a stipend payment.”

Mr Mctaggart also insisted that the Government should provide the statistics from the updated Tourism Stipend Survey, as was done in August of 2021.

“Let the public, including the stipend recipients, understand what the changing circumstances are. The Government may ignore our request to reconsider their approach and be fairer to the tourism stipend recipients, but they will continue to hear from the Opposition whenever we believe that they are failing our people,” the Progressives leader added.

ONE DECISION WELCOMED

Meanwhile, despite its strident disapproval of the PACT government’s handling of the stipend issue, the Progressives party has welcomed the decision to further reduce the COVID-19 travel restrictions.

An accompanying statement by Moses Kirkconnell, former tourism minister and the Opposition’s Shadow Minister for Tourism said: “I am happy to note our support for the Government’s recently announced amendments to the COVID-19 Regulations that removed the requirement for verified vaccinated travellers to do post-arrival lateral flow tests. The increased gathering limits are also very welcome.”

Mr Kirkconnell, who is also the MP for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman also welcomed the removal of testing for vaccinated persons travelling between the Islands.

“All these recent changes will make it easier to travel to the Islands from overseas and to ease travel between the Islands. We are hopeful that the reduced restrictions will help to further jumpstart our stay-over tourism recovery,” Mr Kirkconnell said.


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