Saturday, November 15, 2014

Minimum Wage in Cayman

The idea of a formal minimum wage is very attractive. Nobody should have to spend every hour of his waking life working just to keep body and soul together. A “living” wage, paid to reasonable people working reasonably conscientiously, for enough hours each week to allow time for a reasonable amount of leisure and a reasonable amount of savings. What could be fairer?

In practice, though, there are difficulties. By definition, only the lowest-paid workers in a community would receive the formal minimum. Everybody else would be paid more. Indeed, a formal “minimum wage” would in practice actually be several minimum wages – one for each of several occupations and personal circumstances.

So we’re faced with the likelihood of finding ourselves lumbered with yet another bloated Civil Service bureaucracy to monitor the separate minimum wages for all the occupations listed on the Census forms and maybe even in the Yellow Pages. Plus rewards for skills, experience and responsibility. Plus, gratuities and commissions would need to be reported and monitored. Plus, plus, plus. All formal minimum wages would be based on some kind of political advantage, with little consideration given to economic realities.

Would single individuals receive the same money as married-with-children? Surely not. Would every re-assignment mean a different pay-scale, like the notorious Civil Service “promotions” do? Probably. All disputes would require arbitration; there might need to be an entirely separate arbitration-justice system. All private-sector wages would be set by faceless bureaucrats assuaging their hunger for control.

There won’t be much left of our private-enterprise system. The FCO requires that all our professional politicians be native Caymanians, and almost all their cronies are too, naturally enough. The birthright-entitlement foolishness (endorsed by all the MLAs and cronies, as well as the FCO), would ensure that any minimum-wage legislation would discriminate against immigrants one way or another.

The most certain victims of discrimination would be our lowest-paid migrants. Most native Caymanian householders would flat-out refuse to return to the old days of doing their own housework, baby-minding and gardening. They would vote for a Minimum Wage only on the clear understanding that they could cheat with impunity. In practice, that would be allowed. They would pay their domestic workers below any formal minimum wage, regardless of what the law said.

Nobody in authority would hold them to account. Nobody in authority holds them to account now, if they short-pay their indentured servants and/or steal from them and/or over-work them. In the slavery era, there were good slave-owners and bad ones; it’s the same sort of thing now. It’s a personal option. Without protection from either law-enforcement or the see-no-evil Human Rights Commission, and with no labour unions permitted, unskilled migrants are easy to exploit.

Cayman’s rules for the poorest indentured labourers are arguably harsher than they were in the 1830s for the unskilled labourers imported to the West Indies from India and China. At least then there was a Protector of Immigrants charged with monitoring the migrants’ treatment. Today, we have an entire bureaucracy (the Immigration Department and its politically appointed committees) charged with protecting the migrants’ employers – i.e. the persons who hold the indentures. What a farcical situation that is!

So what would be the point of a Minimum Wage? It wouldn’t benefit migrant workers one bit, and would surely make unemployed Caymanians even less attractive to prospective employers. The most sensible way of helping our least-productive Caymanians would be to scrap the protectionism that is built into the labour-laws.

Make them know that in order to beat out migrants for jobs they must put in an honest week’s work every week. Holding yet another knife to the collective throat of private-sector employers, in the form of a Minimum Wage for Caymanians, would be yet another exercise in futility.