Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Guarding The Guards (exploitation in Cayman)

This is not a good time to be a security guard in Cayman.

Sure, mostly, their lives are pretty standard fare for unskilled indentured migrants all over the world. They sleep up to five in a cheap room, work two or three shifts a day for low wages, and set aside enough money to keep their families alive and well back home. Like poor migrant workers in general, security guards deserve our admiration and respect.

Just think of the qualifications they need for their jobs. They must be brave enough to test their luck in foreign places, and resilient in the face of bullying by foreign bureaucrats and exploitation by foreign employers. They must be courteous in the face of rudeness.

In Cayman, a mean and greedy government taxes their meagre remittances home, and turns a blind eye to the theft of portions of their wages by some employers. Cayman Islands Laws give no protection to Work Permit expats, especially the lowest paid of them, especially against their employers. Our security guards find themselves up against a hostile Immigration bureaucracy that cuts them no slack.

Indeed, Cayman’s entire system of governance relegates our poorest migrants to an underclass, living in what many Jamaicans call “near slavery”. Even the Police don’t seem keen to investigate crimes against them. Nobody ever seems to be prosecuted when poor migrants are slashed by machetes in the middle of the night, or mown down by forklifts.

Stealing from domestic servants and construction labourers has always been winked at by “official Cayman”. No householder has ever been charged with short-paying his or her domestic servant, however often that happens. No contractor has ever been charged with arranging for the quiet deportation of migrant labourers who protested against illegitimate deductions from their wages. Such quiet departures are a hallowed tradition in Cayman. It is part and parcel of the wretched indentures system.

The 670 employers who stole their workers’ pension contributions have never been prosecuted, and never will be. According to news reports, the guilty employers have been let off the hook because they have spent the money already. It would be a terrible hardship to make them pay up now, poor dears. (What a wonderful precedent that is, for embezzlers and muggers. If you’ve already spent it, you don’t have to pay it back.)

It would be interesting to know exactly who the 670 employers are bribing (with the money they haven’t yet spent...) to avoid trial. I mean, surely the inaction can’t be blamed entirely on bureaucratic sloth or incompetence. Hmmm. On the other hand, maybe it can...

Unfortunately, the victims are mostly poor migrants, and they are fair game for all kinds of thieves and bullies. Perhaps they are being shipped off the Island in order to prevent them testifying, or to allow the offences to be statute-barred because time has run out. It’s bound to be one of those two. They didn’t sign up to be cheated or exploited – or to be exempted from the protection of the law.

How can Cayman claim to observe “the rule of law”, when poor migrant workers are notoriously excluded? It is high time that we as a community reviewed our social contract with our lowest-paid migrants.

Private security guards are in the headlines just now. They certainly didn’t sign up for four dollars an hour to be shot at by robbers. What are we going to do to protect them from that?