SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - On Wednesday November 3, 2021, members of the Windward Islands Chamber of Labor Unions (WICLU) met with the members of the Central Committee of Parliament and delivered a presentation seeking the attention of Parliament for urgent legislation to better protect the economic-, social- and financial rights of workers, Member of Parliament (MP) Claudius Buncamper said in a press statement on Tuesday.
During the presentation several topics plaguing workers on the island were brought to the forefront.
Based on the Union’s presentation, MP Buncamper posed several questions to the representatives of WICLU to get their views on how to arrive at a balanced and tangible decision-making process that will benefit all stakeholders in an equal and fair manner and not that the efforts and actions taken or to be taken will benefit one group and have a negative effect on another.
A comparison between sole proprietorship and business (NV’s) ownership was made during the presentation, whereby it was mentioned that in the case of a sole proprietorship the funds generated remain on the island. MP Buncamper said that he agrees to some extend and asked what ideas the WICLU has that Parliament or Government should follow in order to keep the funds from moving off island from, for example, the big businesses that are owned by foreign investors?
The MP said that he is curious to know what the views of WICLU are on Immigration matters, and whether they consider it a serious problem in the country. “We all know that the island suffers from undocumented workers holding down jobs that registered citizens could occupy. This problem is growing graver by the day and effects the economy harder during these difficult times.” MP Buncamper told the WICLU representatives and asked what the union’s position, or possible solution, is to this growing concern as it effects their membership directly.
“That the food basket has to be broaden to protect the markup of prices is very unfortunate and needs to be addressed by government most urgently” MP Buncamper noted. “Our island depends on the importation of goods where food is concerned. It appears that the only tangible cost that can be adjusted to lower food prices is the personnel costs.” MP Buncamper admitted that “after the passing of hurricane Irma, several organizations and individuals resorted to growing their own produce, baking and cooking to consume or to sell to third parties to generate extra income and to avoid being confronted with high marked up prices and thereby avoiding locally generated funds going abroad.” The MP stated that “many people saw the need to start their own little garden in their yard” and insisted that “we need to continue growing our own local produce and go back to the days when our forefathers and parents used to fish.” Fishery, the MP said, is a very profitable market and should be exploited.
MP Buncamper told the union representatives that government can address the Saba Bank ownership and it’s usage by our country to create an additional economic pillar and ask the union leaders how they expect the cost to remain low if salaries is the only point of discussion? The MP said that he does not believe that we should be looking at salaries as, in many cases, these cannot be considered livable wages. MP Buncamper also stressed that we need to establish cooperation with our regional partners for purchasing agricultural products, while we prepare to start using modern technologies for farming and fishery.
The subject of reducing cost of living and making housing more affordable was another point of discussion. As the MP welcomed the union’s suggestions and involvement, he anticipated hearing the union’s views on how they believe government should bring down the cost of living, seeing that most factors that contribute to the rise in cost of living was beyond government’s control.
Although labor regulations are in place, the unions are of the opinion that there is much fear among workers to become a union member, which can result in disciplinary actions or even being fired. There is also a fear to speak up on matters of abuses. There are laws in place to deal with intimidation in the workplace and perhaps the “whistleblower” law can contribute to preventing intimidation for workers. All workers, unionized or not, can rest assured that the laws will be adhered to and enforced when the proper channels are followed.
The MP brought up the flexibilization of the labor laws for the union’s opinion and mentioned that there are long mediation processes between the mediator, employee(s) and employer that can sometimes go on for months, whilst the employee is still being paid. These long pending mediations cause immense financial suffering to the business.
Buncamper questioned if the WICLU has taken a position on the flexibility of the labor laws?
The issuance of business licenses was also addressed. “It is a public secret that business -and directors licenses form a free pass for entry to our country. Having such a license enables one to acquire a residence permit and perform work activities freely” MP Buncamper noted and said that he will review many of the requested director’s licenses to ascertain if the payment offered truly match the work to be performed. Revoking a director’s licenses when it is clear that the local labor market is being jeopardized should become the norm and not an exception. The ultimate penalty would be the revoking of the business license and for that the necessary adjustments of the law must be handled. This initiative, the MP said, should had been taken by the competent ministers a longtime ago.
MP Buncamper informed the union reps that climate change was discussed recently in a Summit and has the attention of many world leaders, scientists, environmentalists and populations. The union stated in one of their presentation points that they believe the country is entitled to clean energy, which means moving away from the fuel presently used by GEBE power plant. Producing clean energy can be done in various forms, but none presently executed by NV GEBE.
Another concern brought forward by the unions was the right to SDG6, which entails the rights to clean water. The MP is of the opinion that we are producing clean and pure water and that we are in compliance with SDG6.
There is a grave social problem brewing at the St. Maarten Housing Foundation and the housing program of the country is almost collapsing. Rent prices for houses and apartments are out of control, thus unaffordable for the average lower class and middle class residents of the country. There are homeless people roaming the streets and sleeping on benches. This topic also has the MP’s attention, and wants to hear the unions position on the functioning of the Housing Foundation and the housing program.
Lastly, the MP mentioned that if we were to follow proper procedures, the Dutch government might be willing to assist us financially. The MP asked the union representatives how the union sees the 2022 and 2023 budgets when it comes to the implementation or partial termination of the 3 crisis laws?
MP Buncamper applauds the WICLU efforts to assist Parliament with the aforementioned concerns, as he believes that Parliament can use all the support that it receives.