Today, Sunday, May 1, is International Workers Day for a majority of countries. Also known as “May Day,” it is a day when workers should be embraced, appreciated and issues surrounding their rights, etc., should be openly discussed.
By way of background, May 1 was believed to have been chosen in 1889 for political reasons by the Marxist International Socialist Congress, which met in Paris and established the Second International as a successor to the earlier International Workingmen’s Association. Reportedly, they adopted a resolution for a “great international demonstration” in support of working-class demands for the eight-hour day. The date had been chosen by the American Federation of Labor to continue an earlier campaign for the eight-hour day in the United States, which had been the cause of a general strike beginning on May 1, 1886, and culminated in the Haymarket affair, which occurred in Chicago four days later. May Day subsequently became an annual event. The 1904 Sixth Conference of the Second International, called on “all Social Democratic Party organisations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on the First of May for the legal establishment of the eight-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace”.
No public events appear to be planned in Cayman today for International Workers Day, however, it is understood that the Ministry of Education has been promoting a Teacher’s Appreciation Week from May 2 to May 6. Hopefully, other entities in the Cayman Islands will follow suit and recognise their workers and hold positive discussions with their staff regarding workers’ concerns and other issues, including workers’ rights.
It would have also been an interesting exercise for stakeholders in Cayman to have a series of townhall sessions in Cayman this week to explore such concerns, which impact Caymanian and foreign workers alike.
For example, one foreign worker explained that “she was required to pay her own work permit fees” when, in fact, this is a responsibility of the employer. Other workers have complained about not having health insurance or pensions in place, which is a breach of the relevant laws. Another worker said that she “sometimes does not get paid on time, in some cases, several weeks late.”
Another big highlight in Cayman in the past has been the idea of a “living wage” for workers, a topic which will hopefully appear on the government’s agenda again in the near future. While coming across as a simple solution, however, one must note that, for every action there is a reaction. This will be the scenario in the case of wage increases, the highest expense for most companies in Cayman.
One unintended outcome is that an increase in the minimum wage could lead to businesses passing on higher prices to consumers in the form of more expensive products and services. Therefore, the same workers who receive the minimum wage increases will be asked to pay increased prices, which essentially puts workers back in the same place that they started.
The other issue with minimum wages is that, if the policy and execution is not properly thought out by government, then companies who are asked to pay higher minimum wages may give employees less hours or reduce staff numbers and allocate more work to less staff just to keep their wage overheads low.
There are many other issues that could be discussed in relation to workers in Cayman on International Workers Day. Hopefully, Cayman stakeholders will take the opportunity today or this week to consider them. By acknowledging workers’ issues and respecting their rights, businesses could not only improve worker morale, but worker performance, which may inevitably result in an improved financial bottom line for the relevant business.