A Historical Perspective of the Cayman Islands Civil Service Association (CICSA)

By: James T. Watler


In endeavoring to gain a better understanding of the emergence of the Cayman Islands Civil Service Association, the author has been researching this topic and it has been most difficult to verify the date of commencement, who were the main driving force behind the movement, dates and persons who served as President of the Association.  Unfortunately, records found in the Cayman Islands National Archives are fragmented and does not provide clarity on dates and names of persons who served as President.  Records found do provide information that sheds light on the fact that there were two organisations named CICSA, one being a Teacher’s CICSA and another being CICSA for the Civil Service.  It is not clear if each organisation had its own President.  There are names of persons who served as President, Treasurer and Secretary but the exact timeframe presents a challenge as there seems to be no written documentation that has been found which provides clarity that can be located that would shed light on this.  In light of this, interviews with persons who have been a Member of the Association has been contacted and therefore reliance on their memory has provided some clarity and understanding of how the Association commenced and how it has grown over the years.

The Association’s Articles of Association got assistance in writing them from persons such as Mr. Moody who was a former Clerk of the Courts and later he became one of our Grand Court Judges’, Mr. Truman Bodden who also was Clerk of the Courts.  Neither of these gentlemen became members of the Association but they give of their time and effort in assisting the Association to establish itself as a credible and legal entity vying for the rights and protection of the workers.

We have come a long way and so the Cayman Islands Government recognizes the value of this Association.  The Cayman Islands Civil Service Association (CICSA) is the only body in the Cayman Islands charged with representing the interest of persons employed by Government. Therefore, CICSA is recognized in Section 68 of the Public Service Management Law 2007, which states that “The Cayman Islands Government recognizes the Cayman Islands Civil Service Association as the duly appointed representative of the civil service and the Head of the Civil Service, the Portfolio of the Civil Service and chief officers are similarly to recognize the Association and liaise with it as appropriate over human resource issues for which they are responsible.”

CICSA represents all levels of civil servants. The only requirement for membership is that an individual either be currently employed by the government or a retired civil servant. As of February 2011, there were 1463 members. For the past 5 plus decades CICSA has assisted civil servants. As the Organization continues, its hope is to continue to increase the quality and quantity of services that it provides.

A Brief Historical Perspective:

The Cayman Islands Civil Service Association emerged in the mid to late 1950’as a result of the many issues that the young but steadily growing Service was undergoing at this time.  The leaders of the Association emerged out of the ranks of the higher ranks of the Civil Service.  The stalwarts who quickly realized that their colleagues in the other Caribbean Territories were formalizing themselves into Unions and Associations which looked out for the rights of the worker’s, soon became very evident that a similar thing needed to happen here.  Our local rank and file of the Civil Service reached out to their counterparts in Jamaica in particular for advice and guidance in getting some sort of worker’s group together which set the platform for the Association to emerge.

History reveals that Jamaica, in the immediate aftermath of the 1st, World War, in 1918 commenced a meeting of prominent public officers in the island to address concerns regarding poor salaries and unacceptable working conditions.  At this meeting it was decided that a select group be entrusted with the responsibility of preparing and taking the petition to the Government.  This group consisted of persons from the various departments of central government and was referred to as the Public officers Memorial Committee.  It was this committee that recommended that an Association be formed.  On May 6th, 1919, the JCSA was formed with full governmental approval.

The brief history of the forming of the Jamaica Civil Service Association has been referred to here as it directly relates to the CICSA here in the Cayman Islands as their aim, goals and objectives were basically the same.  The concerns of the JCSA were, poor working conditions, low wages, benefits were few and far apart to name a few.  It is to be noted that Caymanians were also faced with these challenges.  Unfortunately there was no one nor was there any organization that addressed the needs and concerns of the workers who performed a herculean task in ensuring that the Government was up and running, providing the services that were demanded by the clients, the people of the country.  Like the JCSA, CICSA’s mission was to transform the Civil Service.  CICSA from the onset coined as its’ mantra: “Excellence in Service”, as it assists the Government in making the best use of the necessaries to meet the challenges of a globalized world.

There is no doubt that CICSA has been able to successfully partner with the Government in delivering the kind of service worthy of a modern state, likewise, the Association is confident that its members will continue to rise to the challenges that confronts us going forward.

In endeavoring to find the starting date of the Association this has been a very arduous and long process and up to this point an actual start date has not been able to be arrived at.  It is certain that the Association had its’ genesis somewhere in the mid to late 1950 as there is evidence of the Association actually having two groups that called themselves CICSA, as the evidence as suggest that there was a CICSA, Teachers Association and secondly, there was a CICSA that was also functioning at the same time in the 1950”s.  More research will be done in the future to correctly ascertain more accurately the beginnings of the Association.

Labor in the early days:

In the Cayman Islands Annual Report and Official Handbook, the 1954 – 1958 indicates that “no labor statistics are available other than what prepared in connection with the 1943 census.  Those figures are so out of date that they are misleading and are therefore omitted.” (p.13)  The Cayman Islands Colonial Reports which stretched back to 1947, each year reported on the status of Occupations, Wages, and Labor Organizations in this jurisdiction pointed out that there was no labor Organizations in the Dependency and no statistics were available other than those prepared in connection with the 1943 Census.  (Colonial Report Page 8 – Cayman Islands Annual Report).  The Trade union Law of 1942 provided for the formation, registration, rights, powers and control of Trade unions, but up to the end of 1948 no trade union had been registered.   This was repeated each subsequent year in the Cayman Islands Colonial Annual Reports down to the 1960”s as no unions were established.  In 1946 the minimum wage law was passed and Regulations made thereunder were approved by the Governor in July 1947.  This is the Governor of Jamaica who at this time was also Governor of the Cayman Islands.  This law gave powers to establish a minimum wage for employees, where the wages paid in any particular occupation or trade was found to be unreasonably low.  In this law there was no factory legislation or legislative provision for sickness, old age, etc, but the introduction of a Worker’s Compensation Law at that time was under consideration.

Prior to and up to this time and on through the 1970’s a very high proportion of the adult male population of these Islands engaged in ‘seafaring’ in various capacities on vessels/ships and schooners which took them all over the world.  These seamen received wages varying from L35 pounds per month to (in the case of qualified deck and engineering staff) as much as L225 per month.  The male person’s aged 20 to 50 years was therefore, conspicuous in the Islands by the absence of male labor being scarce.  The records indicate that: “Rates for unskilled laborers varied between 18s. (s. Shillings) and 25s. a day.  Stevedores were paid 2s. 6d. (two shillings and six pence), per hour; carpenters and masons between L2 10s. and L5 per day according to their capacities.  Female shop assistants received on the average L10 per month, and domestic servants between L6 and L8 per month, usually with partial boarding.

The Necessity for an Organization such as CICSA:

In discussing the occupations that existed back then and to note the wage structure to the labor force provides us with a brief insight as to why an organization such as the Civil Service Association (CICSA) became necessary.  From the information above it is obvious that the world of work away from the home was that of a ‘man’s world’ not at all inclusive of the female gender.  The women were domesticated and their role was to take care of the family and the closest thing to work away from the home was the cottage industry that also became part of the female gender’s responsibilities.  The women did some farming in around the home as well as the thatch Industry was also primarily done by the women and children.  Caymanian women became renown for the excellent thatch ropes that they made.  This durable item became very popular and sought after by boaters and persons who needed strong ropes for their vessels or for tying their animals such as goats, cows, horses and other animals.  The Jamaican fishermen realizing that this rope was durable and long lasting, readily provided a market for the Caymanian thatch rope.  Therefore, hundreds and thousands of coils of rope was shipped to Jamaica and other ports, all made by the Caymanian women.

As more and more demand for local labor increased over the years from the 1940’s to the 1950’s, into the 1960’s and onwards, it became more and more necessary for such a force to have some sort of formalized structure and no doubt as Caymanians went abroad for training and they encountered their counterparts in other territories they began to see the need to organize themselves in order that they would not be taken advantage of by their employers.

 Two Civil Service Associations:

Evidence found points out that the Civil Service Association’s (CICSA) commencement had an earlier beginning prior to 1965.  The exact date has not yet been determined however, evidence in the Archives indicates that the CICSA Associations namely Teachers and the general Civil Service Associations had their beginnings from as early as 1956.  Evidence reveals that Mr. Vernon Jackson, (1962) and Mr. Clifton Hunter (1964) was respectively President of the Teachers Association and that Mr. Harry McCoy was President of the Civil Service Association which encompassed all other Government employees.  Likewise it appears that Mr. McCoy acted as Secretary for both Associations.

The Civil Service Association from the onset commenced championing causes for its Members from the time of inception the Service was riddled with challenges and it was those earlier pioneers who spearheaded the creation and shaping of the Association.  The Jamaica Model was embraced so our Articles were copied from that organization which was well on its way to maturity.  Having Stallworth’s such as Mr. Harry McCoy, Ms. Una I. Bush, Mr. Clifton Hunter, Mr. Val Anderson Mr. A. B Hunter, Mr. V. G. Johnson,  and Mr. Vernon Jackson, to name a few who were employed in the service gave much assistance to the development of what we now know today as CICSA.

The Association was cognizance of the fact of the disparity in pay, benefits and conditions of service which severely impeded its membership, therefore in light of this the Association leadership from as early as 1956 at their Annual General Meeting proposed to establish some form of “Self Help” as it was recognized that despite the promised pension from the Government that many of the Association’s members would not have sufficient to live off due to the very low salary that they were earning therefore such a fund would assist them; ‘in so to speak down the road’.  (See letter from Mr. Harry McCoy Secretary of CICSA-dated 10th. April, 1956.)

Members were being requested to contribute the following based on their salary:/Basing calculations on salaries as at the 31st, March 1956.

  • Contributions would be as low as 12s. 6d in the case of the lowest salary bracket
  • In the highest salary bracket not exceeding L2. 17. 6

Members of the Association were given the assurance that under no circumstances would a member stand to lose his or her contribution.  Likewise, in the event that a member leaving the service at any time before reaching the normal retirement age, whether this be two months or two years after the commencement  of the fund, his or her contribution would be returned with whatever interest it might have earned up to the time.  It was further pointed out that where a member has contributed for ten years and over, and is leaving he service, or where a member has reached retirement age before that time, contributions plus interest together with a gratuity calculated on a basis to be fixed, would be paid to that member.  It was further proposed to make special provisions for grants to members who may be forced to retire because of ill-health.  Thus the information that was circulated to all Civil Servants via a circular was so that Members would know the benefits that they could derive from this proposed initiative.  If the plan was approved at the specially called meeting following the AGM, then the project was expected to commence on the forthcoming pay day of April 30th, 1956.  It is not known how things went in regards to the proposed initiative as there is no record that has been so far found that indicates its success or its failure.

A letter written by Mr. E. O. Panton on behalf of the Civil Service Association in the Cayman Islands wrote to the Jamaica Civil Service Association requesting information in regards to the their ‘Civil Service Thrift Fund.  Mr. Panton stated in a letter of April 14th, 1956: “I promised I would write to you to ask if your Association carries a Fund which might be considered similar to the proposals outlined.  I heard some of the boys at your Treasury speaking about a Civil Service Thrift Fund…. I wonder if you would give me the details of this Fund as it might well be that we could use these as a model in creating the Fund envisaged in the Circular.”  Mr. Panton stated that the Secretary of the Association had written to the Secretary of the Jamaica Association some months ago but had not received a response.  A special meeting of the Cayman Association was being held in on May 4th, 1956 to present this to the Membership and this is why it was urgent that they have the information so that the Scheme could be presented with as much information as was possible so that the Membership could make an informed decision.