A series of motions tabled by the Official Opposition in the Legislative Assembly have received a favourable reaction from government and independent members in attendance either in-person or via video link.
These included increasing the retirement age, aligning maternity benefits in the public and private sector, customs waivers, free online access to the territory’s laws and funding for a marine protection unit.
Deferred Retirement Age
“Retirement is wonderful if you have two essentials; much to live on and much to live for” was how MLA for Bodden Town West, Chris Saunders, introduced a motion to increase the retirement age from the current 65 to 70 years of age.
In noting the current retirement options, Mr Saunders said the “the intention is not to force people to work, but to say if you want to continue working and you feel you can contribute something then by all means.
The idea is not to take that dignity away from people who still want to work.”
Reporting on consultation he carried out in preparing the motion, MLA Saunders said the objective is for a phased move to 70 years as the upper limit for retirement.
In the ensuing debate, Hon. MLA for Savannah, Anthony Eden, spoke of “representation by some of our brilliant seniors approaching that age of 65 and up, who want to continue to contribute to the welfare of these islands.”
“It’s not about blocking the younger ones,” he stated, “but the pool that we draw from of our Caymanians living here is getting limited, so I would encourage that consideration be given to introducing the change over a period of time."
The Hon Deputy Governor, Franz Manderson whose office oversees the civil service, reported that the current public administration system already has a system in place to retain civil servants over the age of 65 where there’s a demand for their experience and expertise.
He said it showed that “our current provisions to allow for the retention of civil servants who are at or have passed the current age of 65, if and when there’s need to retain their services.”
The Deputy Governor also said that his office was encouraged by the 'early wins' in an ongoing assessment of the implications of raising the retirement age.
“Allowing those persons to continue contributing their pension plan until age 65 has also had a positive impact on the overall public service pension fund and projected income replacement values for future retirees.”
With Cayman being one of the few places which currently does not have a social security system, Deputy Governor Manderson also welcomed the extended retirement age as a worthwhile alternative.
“As Cayman does not have a social security safety net that provides a minimum income in retirement, any proposal that could lead to an increase in retirement savings should be considered,” he suggested.
Mr Manderson observed that: “We would not want a system with individuals who are too old to find work but also too young to qualify for retirement.”
He also emphasised that “there are dynamics that we have to contend with and the changes need to be looked at to ensure that we implement the best and right solution.”
Suggested that more time would be needed to assess the impact of the proposed change, he added: "Such changes are not feasible in the short term with so many other pressing issues confronting the country and the civil service.”
The motion which calls for starting the process of moving the outer limit of the retirement age to 70 was carried.
Two motions were tabled in the name of Hon MLA for North Side Ezzard Miller, seeking exemptions from customs duty for warranty replacements and duty-free importation of medicines, medical and surgical supplies.
Mr Miller was absent from the sitting due to the death of his mother.
Responding favourably, the Hon. Minister of Finance Roy McTaggart, said while the accepted the request, he was mindful of the economic constraints at present caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The request by MLA Miller is now expected to be considered alongside measures to be submitted by the Cayman Islands Customs and Border Control(CBC) to make amendments to the customs tariff law, although the details of those were not immediately available.
“I think it’s a motion the government can and will accept,” the Finance Minister said via video link.
“I think in terms of the timing of any lifting of import duties as well will have to be very much contingent on the recovery of the country’s finances considering that we are in a very severe time for reduced economic activity resulting in a 20-25% shortfall in government revenues.”
Mr Taggart said if MLA Miller's proposal had come prior to the pandemic it would have most likely been accepted and implemented.
“On a personal note," he said, "I would rather like to see government revenues restored to much healthier amounts before we actually implement such a recommendation. Had this come six months ago it would have been happily accepted and implemented, but I would just urge some caution there as we move forward.”
Finance Minister McTaggart, however assured that the government will give it “due consideration in time.”
Maternity Leave Aligned
Maternity Leave between workers in the civil service and the private sector is to be aligned from next year.
This will come about due to the efforts of Hon. MLA Christopher Saunders, the Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition.
At present private-sector employees receive 60 working days off as maternity leave compared to 90 for their civil service counterparts.
“I believe that this inconsistency between the private sector and the civil service needs to be corrected as a matter of natural justice as we can’t have a constitution with Bill of Rights that promotes equality under the law but them we have laws that are applied equally,” Mr Saunders stated.
The motion was adopted.
Another Saunders-initiated motion, this one calling for all Cayman Islands laws to be made available online free of cost was passed, as was a motion tabled by MLA Eden for the government to set up and fund a marine protection unit.