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SINT MAARTEN ANTI-POVERTY PLATFORM/SINT MAARTEN CONSUMERS COALITION.

Press conference Thursday June 11, 2020
Topic 1: How positive was the meeting of Chamber of Labor Unions with the Council of Ministers?
Topic 2: Protection of Registered Workers on Our Labor Market
Topic 3: Full implementation of human rights for all citizens
Topic 4: Maintaining the purchasing power of wages and salaries and the Cost of Living Adjustment
Topic 5: Kingdom Government and local government are co-authors of the “Social pandemic”
Topic 1: How positive was the meeting of Chamber of Labor Unions with the Council of Ministers?
Finally on Tuesday June 9th the Council of Ministers honored the request of the unified unions in the Windward Island Chamber of Labor Unions for a dialogue. To start this dialogue it took 2 months:
• 2 letters had to be written (one of March 31 and another of May 28)
• a walk to the government administration building from union members in support of their leaders
The labor unions wanted to dialogue with the Council of Ministers on proposals and recommendations with regards to the status of the workers on St Maarten, especially considering the negative impact of the COVID 19 pandemic on workers and their families. Let us review with you what the WICLU recommended and what the Council of Ministers and the EOC did consultations with the unions. Then you will understand why the unified unions had to mobilize their members to be heard and to be respected!
The Prime Minister in yesterday’s weekly Council of Ministers Press briefing said that she had a very positive impression of the first meeting the COM had with the seven WICLU unified unions.
• She recognized that all the meetings on the cost cutting measures she held was meetings with only two civil servants unions represented in the consultative body the Committee Civil Servants Unions, did not address the issues the seven unions have requested to dialogue about situations facing all workers and their families.
• The Prime Minister assured that the governing program to be published yet has a high regard to the Sustainable Development Goals with the input of all stakeholders.
• The prime minister looks forward to continue the dialogue with the unions as she said that the fight is not between government and the unions but the fight is to get the Kingdom partners to recognize our rights in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
• She promised to send responses to all the letters we have written
How positive we from the unions can be after a two hour meeting? Until now we do not have an agreement of what a dialogue is. The definition of dialogue is to take part in a conversation or discussion TO RESOLVE A PROBLEM. After two months of requesting for a conversation and discussion to resolve the many problems workers and their families are experiencing how many problems we could have discussed in two hours? In the following topics you will see that we still have not resolved any of the problems we requested to be discussed. When you dialogue you have to reach consensus on how to resolve the problem! We have not reached any solution yet!
Topic 2: Protection of Registered Workers on Our Labor Market
The protection of the existing jobs and the local labor market from the influx of foreign workers is of great concern for the unions. How much concern the government has? Recently MP Buncamper raised this issue indirectly based on a situation which came to the light on the dump, were workers in a patio were cut off water and electricity.
• Yesterday the Minister of Justice the honorable Anna Richardson announced in the framework on the law to increase control on the paperwork of foreign workers. Here we see another example of government taking unilateral decisions, without consulting the unions for instance.
• The problem in our labor market of undocumented foreign workers are the ones that hire and fire these workers without filing and paying for them the required work permits!
• Everyone could witness how parliamentarians of the United Peoples Party reacted on the Ministerial decree of former Minister of Labor Pamela Gordon-Carty to implement a labor market policy to guarantee local workers employment first.
• Now that the UP party has two ministers appointed in the Council of Ministers one as Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication and one as Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor, how these UP-ministers are addressing these issues and protecting the existing jobs and the local labor market?
• In the SSRP, the St Maarten Support and Relief Plan also called the stimulus plan, there is a “Payroll Support Program” for businesses and a “Lock down support” program for those entrepreneurs who do not qualify for the payroll support program. The pretention was to keep the workers employed and for them to maintain their full monthly wages.
o With many examples the unions could illustrate the Council of Ministers that many workers were sent home without receiving their full monthly wages!
o We also made it clear to the Council of Ministers why workers do not trust the labor department and why the workers come to union leaders for assistance and protection!
SO as you can conclude there is no consensus yet with government on this issue
Topic 3: Full implementation of human rights for all citizens
Guaranteeing basic necessities like food, water, electricity, telecommunication and internet services, cooking gas based on the right to an adequate standard of living for everyone and their families is a concern of everyone in our society. How much of a concern this is for the government and this new council of Ministers?
• Everyone could experience and hear the people complaining about the food prices (for instance the prices of eggs), the last GEBE bill, etc. What is the complaint: no relief, but prices going up!
• What did the Council of Ministers, the EOC or the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication do to protect the workers and their families against these price hikes, apart from publishing a maximum price list for a certain amount of items, cost of living still going up!
• Government could not even provide sufficient food boxes for the more than 13.000 poor and needy households. In two month time only 3000 boxes were delivered and guess what the VSA department paid the same jacked up food prices! No wonder that they could not provide more food boxes to relief all those in need.
Living wages instead of minimum wages, social allowances and employment benefits based on equality in the Kingdom and the right to non-discrimination
• This was not addressed before COVID 19. Understandably also not during the pandemic!
• But when we will realize equal minimum wages, social allowances and employment benefits in the Kingdom?
• What exactly this NA-UP coalition will do?
The 1150 ANG poverty income amount of the stimulus plan for lock down support for all sole proprietors, taxi drivers, bus drivers, vendors, etc. again shows you that this government did not go for equality.
• This government even discriminated the self-employed worker. Employers with more than one employee could get a maximum of 80% payroll support, these self-employed workers all got one fixed amount of 1150 ANG or 639 USD. The same amount an unemployed worker who lost his job because of COVID 19 gets. You know how much that is per day? 21 USD a day. This is lesser than 80% of what these workers were making on an average day of work.
So here we have another topic where we have a fundamental difference of opinion with the Council of Ministers which is not resolved yet. In the meeting of yesterday this topic was not even discussed yet.
Topic 4: Maintaining the purchasing power of wages and salaries with a Cost of Living Adjustment
In 2012 was the last COLA for civil servants and in 2016 was the last one for minimum wage earners. If there is no cost of living adjustment the increase in the cost of living means that your purchasing power goes down.
• What this new governing coalition will do? We have not seen their governing program yet. So as government is continuity, they are still implementing the DP and UD policies of the past ten years: which were not to adjust wages to the cost of living, but allowing merchants (free enterprise) to manipulate and jack up prices as much as they want!
• Now what is this government imposing as cost cutting measures to get liquidity support from the Kingdom government? No Cost of Living Adjustment for civil servants. With government owing the civil servants more than 10% COLA since 2012, the 12.5% cut government wanted to implement is another example of a fundamental difference of opinion between government and the unions.
• Government is saying that they do not touch the salaries of the workers, but since 2012 by not adjusting the salaries to the cost of living increase, they are touching the purchasing power of the workers! And then they want the unions to accept another 12.5% cut in the secondary benefits which are based on the salary you get?
• Even for workers in government owned companies this condition was imposed to management of the companies!
How can the prime minister maintain that this difference of opinion with the unions is a positive dialogue? As long as we do not have an agreement how this issue will be resolved, that is not a positive result of the dialogue. Loosing purchasing power is discrimination of the workers income and is favoring the income of business owners!
Topic 5: Government is co-author of the “Social COVID 19 pandemic”
The unions suggested government to provide clear guidelines and laws to prevent workers and their families to become victims of a “social pandemic”. What is causing a social pandemic as contrast to the health pandemic? Problems of lack of income! Not being able to pay rent, mortgages and loans or even utility bills on a monthly basis or on a timely fashion!! Unemployment, underemployment and drastic cuts in working hours. This is affecting the income and the financial stability of the workers and their families. Did government provide an acceptable solution for these problems experienced by the workers and their families?
• Government presented a Stimulus plan the SSRP. Stimulus for whom? To stimulate the businesses to pay the workers 100% and to keep them employed. That is what they pretend. But with all the complaints we receive of workers who did not get their full salary paid or even who were sent home and lost their employment, who got stimulated, the workers and their families? No consultation took place with the unions who have already experienced what employers did with workers after receiving their business interruption money from the insurance! Employers had to be brought to court for workers to get 100% pay!!
• The unions wanted to see social and financial stimulus packages for every household. Nothing of that in the SSRP. Unions were not even consulted on what should be in such a social and financial stimulus plan for households.
• The Council of Ministers started an information campaign around the 26% cut in their remuneration, boasting that that was 1% more than what State Secretary Knops and the Kingdom Council of Ministers was demanding! They also want the workers of the (semi)public sector to accept a 12.5% cut in their remuneration!
o Both State Secretary Knops and the Kingdom government with these “indecent” proposals and decisions as the Prime Minister calls the 18 conditions are in violation of international labor conventions and international human rights treaties!
o The Parliament of St Maarten instructed the Council of Ministers in a motion of May 20th to approve liquidity support conditions only if these conditions were in compliance with international laws, Kingdom laws and local laws.
o The unions have been informing publicly which labor standards are being violated.
In yesterday’s meeting the Prime Minister asked the WICLU to provide in writing, which International, Kingdom, or local legislation is being violated!
• In other words these paid appointed officials in the Council of Ministers and the paid advisors of the Council of Ministers they either did not do their homework from the moment they have received the demands from the Dutch politicians or they are not knowledgeable about all the legislation that according to article 81 of the Constitution of St Maarten they have to respect?
• What a thing? Do the unions have to teach them now? And then for them to teach the Kingdom Council of Ministers before July the 1st which human rights they are trampling on with their conditions?
Well according to the mandate received from the members of the seven unions, if the St Maarten government and the Kingdom government (of which the Sint Maarten government is a part) does not remove all the cost cutting measures in the remuneration of the workers of the table before June 15th, if they do not want to respect worker’s rights which are human rights, than they will be exposed by the unions as human rights violators and racial discriminators!
Tomorrow June 11nd the Kingdom Council of Ministers through its representative the governor will get a letter protesting the human rights violations and demanding immediate cancellation of the discriminatory COVID 19 cost cutting measures!
State Secretary Knops also will get a letter through the Dutch representative on the island to immediately stop the human rights violations and the apartheid conditions he has proposed to the Kingdom Council of Ministers!!
Since the Council of Ministers has no clue which worker’s rights, human rights, Kingdom laws and local laws are being violated they will also get a letter tomorrow to immediately stop the violations of our rights and to defend our rights in the Kingdom Council of Ministers!
Monday June 15th all members of the seven united unions are being invited again for the latest update in the realization of the mandate and of the next steps to be taken for us to get our rights! In Dutch they say: “een goed verstaander heeft maar een half word nodig!” The English equivalent is: A word to the wise is enough!!

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