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Published 12th February 2016, 2:47pm

Following a number of statements reportedly made by Chamber of Commerce’s Immediate Past President Barry Bodden at the recent Chamber AGM in relation to the consultation draft Labour Relations Bill, 2015, the Ready2WorkKY employment programme launched by the Government and the Minister of Employment’s alleged unwillingness to engage with the Chamber, the Ministry of Employment has issued a statement directly addressing a number of significant inaccuracies contained in those statements.

“Quite frankly, I was surprised and deeply disappointed to learn of these and other public utterances reported to be made by Mr. Bodden at the Chamber AGM and to the wider community during recent media appearances, as these claims are simply not true,” said Minister of Employment Honourable Tara Rivers. “In fact, for the past two years, since 10 January 2014, I have personally met and attempted to engage with the relevant Chamber Presidents of the day, representatives of the Chamber Council and the Chamber CEO on four separate occasions to date, the most recent being 3 February 2016. There have also been numerous other meetings and communications between staff of the Ministry and the Chamber dating as far back as at least September 2013, just over 3 months into the new Government’s term in office.”

Minister Rivers confirmed that she wrote to the Chamber in September 2014 (letter attached) specifically about the Labour Relations Bill and the desire of the Government to move forward with developing a National Apprenticeship Programme (which pre-dated the development and the launch of the Ready2WorkKY programme).

“The Ministry has given the Chamber ample opportunity over the past two years to meaningfully engage by specifically asking them to assist with developing and driving targeted employment and training programmes that would meet the needs of their Members and ensure that jobs are more accessible to the local Caymanian population,” stated Minister Rivers. “Unfortunately, to date they have not delivered on their promises to help the Government.”

However, the Minister says she remains optimistic. “I am hopeful that after this week’s meeting, the new Council is prepared to make good on the Chamber’s offer to help the Government deliver on the goal of developing meaningful employment programmes that will benefit the business community, and the Caymanian people to access the real job opportunities available in the local labour market.”

Minister Rivers also made it clear that the work would continue with or without the Chamber’s assistance. “It is now time for the Chamber to deliver on its stated desire for and commitment to a true partnership with the Government in order to assist in addressing the employment concerns in a way that will benefit both employers and employees. However, if the organisation is unable or ill-equipped to fulfil its promises, then it is incumbent upon the leadership to make this known so that the Ministry and the Government can continue to press ahead and make successful inroads and partnerships directly with key industry representatives as we have been doing since taking office.”

Rivers cited the Ministry’s development of public-private partnerships with key industry representatives such as the student education and training programme with Cayman Finance in 2015, the launch of the School of Hospitality Studies in partnership with CITA and UCCI, and the imminent launch of the Cayman Islands Chapter of the Board Apprentice Programme with the support and sponsorship of EY.

“I am hoping that the multiple successes of the Government working directly with key industry representatives and companies in developing and launching these partnerships in education, training and employment can be replicated by working through the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce. However, the Ministry is prepared and willing to continue to work directly with the key industries to develop such partnerships if necessary.” The Ministry has always invited Chamber representation or participation in the major exercises undertaken to help inform the development of national policy, including the NWDA Task Force and the Minimum Wage Advisory Committee.

In addition, the Minister revealed that several offers were made to the Chamber by the Ministry to facilitate meetings to discuss the draft Labour Relations Bill, 2015 and the draft National Pensions (Amendment) Bill, 2015 at the same time that the drafts were circulated to the Chamber for public consultation in June 2015. However, the Chamber did not take up those suggestions at that time.

“I strongly refute the claims made by the outgoing Chamber President regarding the lack of engagement with respect to the Labour Relations Bill, 2015. I, along with members of the Ministry and DLP, have always made ourselves available for dialogue with the Chamber and its members,” she declared. “Mr. Bodden’s assertion that an amended Bill has been presented to Caucus is an inaccurate one. What is particularly troubling is that apparently this misconception was corrected by certain members of the Government in a separate discussion held with the Chamber CEO days prior to the Chamber AGM. Yet the wrong message was still communicated to the Chamber membership.”

Minister Rivers says the majority of the comments on the Labour Relations Bill, 2015 submitted by the Chamber were considered to be either acceptable in some form or neutral drafting related points which were taken on board by the Government in its further drafting instructions to amend the Bill. Furthermore, appropriate opportunities for further consultation will be provided to the Chamber of Commerce, other stakeholders and the public to comment on both the revised Labour Relations and National Pensions Bills once they have been produced.

“The Ministry, and indeed the Government, recognises the important role that the Chamber of Commerce plays as an advocate for the business community and employers that make up its membership. However, I want to make it abundantly clear that the Chamber will not dictate the consultation or revision process for these Bills. The Government does not answer to the Chamber Council; the Government answers to the people that we were elected to serve.”

Letter to Chamber signed by Minister Sep 2014
Letter to Chamber signed by Minister Sep 2014