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Local News 06 Apr, 2020 Follow News

Hon. Dwayne Seymour, Minister of Health, Environment, Culture and Housing

The Cayman Islands government says it's looking into reports over how some companies are handling staff lay-offs due to the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

Hon. Minister of Health, Dwayne Seymour says he has been receiving persistent reports suggesting that some businesses are prioritising work permit holders over Caymanians.

It’s not the first time that he has addressed the matter publicly but now it’s clear that more urgency is being attached to the situation.

“We understand as businesses you are looking to the foreseeable future and in some cases, this will mean the laying off of staff will be a major issue that many will have to contend with,” he said.

However, Min. Seymour is concerned about reports that Caymanians are being the first to be laid off in what appears to be a growing number of instances.

“We have been hearing that some businesses have been laying off Caymanians first and are retaining their work permit holders.

Saying that he has received several phone calls regarding this, he admitted that he could not say at this time of the practice was widespread.

Mr Seymour is of the view that it’s an issue that warrants attention given the economic challenges now facing the territory along with the operational difficulties confronting many businesses in this period of uncertainty.

“We understand this may be the result of many things; letting go of non-essential staff versus keeping on key workers.”

But he stated; “we must also realise that this could be the result of some business owners thinking this is the better of the two evils since Caymanians will receive more help or will receive assistance faster from the Needs Assessment Unit (NAU), or from the government.”

The Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce has also addressed the matter in a recent online information session for businesses which extensively addressed workers rights and the responsibilities of the business community in this situation.

The webinar also fielded a number of questions on issues pertaining to government regulations and support.

Premier Alden McLaughlin has stated that Government was formulating a relief and stimulus package for the business sector.

Details are awaited.

He had also recently given a commitment to assist work permit holders who have lost their jobs on legal as well as humanitarian grounds as far as possible including assistances with returning to their home countries.

The Cayman Islands workforce is heavily reliant on a large non-national workforce across key sectors of the economy, especially in tourism and its related areas.

Health minister Seymour said the government is mindful of how critical that workforce is to the economy but was equally aware of the complications now caused by the economic downturn with many work permit holders facing financial challenges.

There is growing concern within the Government and the private sector that the economic contraction could be prolonged.

Reading from a prepared script on this critical and delicate issue, Hon. Seymour stated: “I want to remind the public, businesses in particular, that our Premier has previously stated and continues to state that our government will assist all who are here in our island; work permit holders, permanent residents and Caymanians.”

However, the Health Minister who has been the only cabinet minister regularly accompanying the Premier to the daily press conferences, made it a point to highlight the reality of the Cayman Islands’ unique employment profile within the economy, in the context of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

“While we all know these are trying and uncertain times, we cannot and should not discriminate.”

“But,” Mr Seymour added, “we must also be realistic. If the situation rolls into a few more weeks or a few more months as envisioned, there will come a time when the government’s purse will be dwindling.”

“The reality is that we need to support our own people,” he said, “and we will require the support of businesses such as we’ve seen with the Ritz Carlton this week, been responsible and having the difficult conversations with their staff and encouraging those who are truthfully are out of jobs to return to their home countries.”

He repeated what Premier McLaughlin had stated previously that government had taken steps to offer some levels of financial assistance through methods including redundancy packages.

Mr Seymour noted that; “this only again highlights what is a humanitarian effort and everyone is responsible to do the right thing, individuals and businesses.”

He warned that he was prepared to take harsh measures against companies especially which might be dodging their responsibilities to their staff, especially native Caymanians.

“Please don’t let me bring out the fighting side of me.”

The Minister said, “There is no doubt that the Cayman Islands is going to need the skills of all kinds of talented people when this passes.

“We were built on the backbone of many nationalities,” he reminded.

In that vein, Mr Seymour sought to defuse rumours of disunity linked to disagreements over how the government assistance for laid-off workers was being apportioned.

“We commit to back the Premier’s promise that no one will go without food or shelter,” he vowed.

Stating that Cayman is made up of over a 130 nationalities, Hon. Seymour pleaded:

"We ask you to stay unified. We must work together. We cannot beat this unless we stand shoulder to shoulder with care and compassion for own fellowmen.”

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