(CAYMAN COMPASS) – With further restrictions imposed on bars and restaurants, thousands of expatriate workers have lost their jobs and may be stuck in Cayman as many countries close off their gateways back home.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, speaking at a press briefing on Tuesday, said government is looking at all aspects of the growing number of unemployed work-permit holders on island and the borders that are being shut internationally in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is very much a humanitarian crisis and if people have nowhere to go and can’t get there, obviously, we have to look after them. But we would hope that their employer does look after their staff,” he said.
He said the matter of workers not being able to fund their way back home is also being looked at, and while a repatriation fee is paid to immigration, that can only be utilised in special circumstances.
“Employees need to step up and take responsibility for buying a ticket if that is what’s keeping the person from going back. The more difficult question is, we have some of these airports around the world closing down, and it is very, very difficult for people to get overseas,” he said.
The premier said the Cayman Islands government is going to have to continue assessing the air-traffic situation and its implication on foreign workers.
“Because, obviously, these people still need a roof over their heads. They need to be able to live, they need to be able to eat. So, we are going to obviously have to do an assessment of how many of those are in that situation and, in conjunction with their employer, seek to find some way to manage them,” he said.
With the Owen Roberts International Airport closed off to visitors, and cancellations growing, the premier said, accommodation for impacted workers may not be a problem.
“In very short order, they’re going to be a lot of hotels with no guests, so finding a room for people in a contingency like that should not be that difficult,” he said.
He urged employers to do the responsible thing and reach out to government if they have employees in this situation.
“I think, probably, the best department would be the community affairs ministry and departments that fall under that, and we will look at the matter,” he said.
As for businesses engaging in unscrupulous acts concerning their employees, McLaughlin reminded them, “The Labour Law is very much in effect.”
He noted that nothing that has been done thus far suspended the provisions of the Labour Law.“So, any employer who behaves other than in accordance with the Labour Law is in breach of the Labour Law,” he said, responding to reports from employees that they were being forced to take their vacation days and sick leave while the COVID-19 restrictions are in place.
Governor Martyn Roper said he has been working with the UK to provide a gateway for impacted workers who can pass through London to get home, as well as the possibility of waiving the transit visa.
Those discussions are ongoing.