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Schiphol to pay airlines €350 for each passenger whose flight is cancelled

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Schiphol airport is to pay airlines €350 for every passenger whose trip is cancelled over the next few days, the Volkskrant and Telegraaf reported on Friday.

The measure is aimed at encouraging airlines to start cancelling flights and reducing passenger numbers as part of the airport authority’s plans to cut down on queues for security checks and baggage problems.

The measure is a stop gap to help airlines while negotiations about a more structured reduction in passenger numbers continue. That will take around two weeks, the airport authority said.

Schiphol said earlier this month passenger numbers needed to be reduced by around 9,000 a day for the next six weeks to cut down on long waiting times.

Schiphol had paid security staff a bonus of over €5 an hour during the busy summer months in an effort to boost numbers, but the scheme ended at the start of September.

Union officials said that continuing to pay the bonus may well work out cheaper in the long run than paying airlines a fee per passenger.

(DutchNews)

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MPs vote to widen support for those hit by soaring energy bills

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The cabinet is assured of majority support for its energy cap plans but ministers were urged to make sure that the measure reaches everyone who needs help in Thursday’s second day of debate on the 2023 budget.

The debate, which ended at midnight, included 60 motions put forward by the opposition parties in a bid to win concessions from the government. In particular, PvdA and GroenLinks MPs won majority backing for their call on the government to take people who no longer have gas for heating or cooking into account.

The price cap is based on an assumption that people use both fuels. MPs also backed calls to give tenants living in poorly insulated homes a rent cut because there is little they can do to cut their energy bills.

A majority also backed a BBB motion for special attention for people who need to heat their homes for medical reasons. Parliament also called for more action to help schools, sports clubs and associations, swimming pools and cultural institutions which have also been hit by soaring energy prices.

Away from the energy crisis, MPs backed plans to allocate €100 million to pay for school meals for children in disadvantaged areas, and to speed up plans for building new nuclear power stations.

Fine tuning

The Financieele Dagblad said in its analysis of the debate that prime minister Mark Rutte had been consistent in his statements about ‘fine tuning’ the energy price cap and about the complexities of the system.

At the same time, ‘many parties could not resist the temptation to go through their own shopping list and they too often lost themselves in detailed discussions,’ the paper said.

Prime minister Mark Rutte ‘glided smoothly and confidently through the two-day marathon debate’, the paper said, despite the low level of public confidence in politicians.

(DutchNews)

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Coronavirus will be with us this winter, experts tell Nu.nl

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands should be prepared to deal with a flare up in coronavirus in the coming months, even though the World Health Organisation has said the end of the pandemic is in sight, according to virologist Marion Koopmans.

Koopmans told Nu.nl in an interview that the virus will continue to cause problems. ‘The number of hospital admissions may be lower than in previous waves but there will be some,’ she said.

‘And in the winter, in particular, hospitals cannot deal with much more.’ Koopmans, a professor at the Erasmus teaching hospital in Rotterdam, said the Dutch healthcare system is not organized in a way as to provide plenty of reserve beds.

Some 400 people are currently being treated for coronavirus on an ordinary ward, while several dozen are in intensive care. At the height of the pandemic last year, over 1,000 people were in hospital with the virus.

The basic rules, such as staying home with symptoms, using self-tests, good ventilation and being careful around people with vulnerable health remain crucial, she said. ‘Of course, everyone should be able to have fun… but the virus has not gone,’ she said.

‘And we have to take the fact we will have problems with infections in the autumn into account.’

Vaccinations

As part of the preparations for winter, on Monday the government launched a new vaccination campaign. Everyone over the age of 12 is now eligible for an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, provided they have not had a booster jab or a coronavirus infection in the last three months.

Just over two-thirds of adults are classed as fully vaccinated, meaning they had the original two vaccines in 2021 and a booster shot last winter.

However, according to research by I&O, around half of Dutch adults are not planning to take a booster vaccination against coronavirus this autumn.

Strategy

Last week health minister Ernst Kuipers published the government’s strategy for tackling an anticipated autumn wave of infections, which stresses the importance of ‘keeping society open’ and treats protecting access to healthcare and ‘socio-economic continuity’ as equal priorities.

The minister published a list of 29 ‘ladders of measures’ covering a range of sectors including transport, retail, sports clubs and entertainment venues, detailing what steps should be taken based on a ‘thermometer’ indicating the level of infection.

Most measures, such as social distancing, testing and wearing face masks, will only be advisory unless the thermometer reaches the point when ‘interventions’ are needed.

At the highest level the government can impose wide-ranging restrictions such as travel bans, home working and requiring proof of vaccination to enter venues.

(DutchNews)

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‘Extremely tight’ labour market is biting more and more: UWV

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – There are now officially more vacancies than people to fill them and pressure on the economy is mounting, jobs agency UWV has said in its latest labour market monitor.

The number of vacancies grew by 44% in the second quarter compared to last year while the number of short term unemployed fell by 31%. The tight labour market is affecting all professions, with 75% experiencing extreme staff shortages.

Engineers, nurses, electricians, technicians and software developers head the list, the UWV said. The public is already experiencing the consequences of the lack of workers as railway operator NS cuts service and Schiphol waiting times mount.

Parents are confronted with teacher shortages and lack of care staff at hospitals is impacting patients, labour market advisor Frank Verduijn said. ‘For the longest time the economy has determined what happens in the labour market.

Because of the extremely tight labour market that seems to have been partly reversed,’ he said.

The lack of available workers is a result of a number of factors, including an ageing population, the number of part-time workers in the Netherlands, the coronavirus crisis, and the perceived unattractive working conditions in some of the affected sectors.

Simply offering a higher salary is no longer enough, Verduijn said. ‘Holding on to staff, by offering them opportunities to develop through training and making sure working conditions are suited to workers’ needs, is now more important than ever,’ Verduijn said.

Employers should also revise their recruitment processes and, for some jobs, look at a candidates’ likely ability to pick up skills as they work, rather than their diplomas.

(DutchNews)

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Housing developers warn again about delays and cancellations

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Residential housing developers and investors are increasingly delaying or pulling out of projects and thousands of homes at the planning stage are affected, according to construction sector lobby group WoningBouwersNL.

Figures drawn up by real estate advisory group Capital Value show that some 25,000 properties at the planning stage are either being delayed or cancelled – around a third of the new homes realised in the average year.

The government has a target of 100,000 homes a year to meet the shortage of affordable accommodation. Increases in mortgage rates, now heading for 4%, and soaring inflation have reduced the scope of many people to buy a new home, the lobby group is quoted as saying in the AD.

‘This is putting developers in a difficult position because they have to build cheaper homes for a market with less capital, while their costs and uncertainties are increasing,’ the report said.

Two thirds of all new properties must meet the government’s definition of ‘affordable’ homes. Permits The number of new permits for housing developments issued in the first six months of this year fell by 18%.

‘This is a disaster for people who are looking for a home because the shortage is only increasing,’ WoningBouwersNL said. In August, researchers at Delft University said the downturn in building new owner occupier properties first recorded at the end of last year is continuing.

In the first quarter of this year, just 4,500 new owner occupier homes were completed and 5,500 were bought – back at the level of the 2013 financial crisis, the university said.

In July Dutch real estate investors wrote to housing minister Hugo de Jonge warning that new home construction projects will slow drastically if he presses ahead with plans to regulate rents for up to 90% of the country’s residential property.

Without change, just 50,000 new homes will be built every year, rather than the 100,000 that the government is counting on, lobby group Neprom told the minister in a briefing.

(DutchNews)

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Gas price cap will also boost energy efficiency, experts say

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Experts say the government’s decision to introduce a price cap on energy bills will not only help households who are struggling financially but may also encourage people to take more steps to save energy.

Details of the deal agreed between the finance ministry and energy companies still have to be finalised, but the plan is expected to save households around €2,000 a year.

The government will set a maximum unit price for gas and electricity that will cover the first 1,200 m3 of gas and 2,400 kWh of electricity – the annual fuel consumption for an average household.

Any energy used above that level will be charged at an uncapped rate based on market prices. The government says average household will pay around €290 a month for gas and electricity next year under the proposed price cap.

The exact rates have not been finalised, but are expected to be around 70 cents for a unit of electricity and €1.50 per cubic metre of gas.

This, experts say, makes it financially attractive for people to make sure their energy use stays below the ceiling. Ruut Schalij from energy specialist company eRisk Group told news website Nu.nl he expects to see the ‘biggest savings on energy spending ever’.

‘Entire families will be able to join in,’ he said. ‘How can we keep our gas use under the 1,200 m3 limit. It will be a great competition, because it can be done.’ The government estimates that around half the country’s eight million households use less energy than the price ceiling covers – but that figure is strongly influenced by the number of people living alone.

Families

Broadcaster RTL says that single person households are likely to remain below the price ceiling and will pay around €205 for gas and electricity in the coming year. Couples living in terraced housing may use slightly more than the government’s estimate, and face bills of around €308 a month.

However, families living in bigger houses, who use far more energy than the ceiling limit, will face much higher bills of around €680 a month, RTL said. RTL has a tool to help people estimate how much they will spend on gas and electricity next year.

(DutchNews)

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Apologise for slavery, allow police to wear headscarves, new anti-racism chief says

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch government should apologise for its role in slavery and the descendants of enslaved people should be able to change their names free of charge, the Netherlands’ anti-discrimination coordinator has said in his first report.

Rabin Baldewsingh, appointed to the role in 2021 in a reaction to the Black Lives Matter campaign, also says the police should be allowed to wear religious symbols, such as a headscarf, and that a Rotterdam bylaw allowing people to be stopped from moving to certain parts of the city should be scrapped because it is discriminatory.

‘Too often in the Netherlands we think in terms of bureaucratic processes, but when it comes to racism and discrimination, it is so important to look at peoples’ experiences and how they process them,’ Baldewsingh says in the report.

Making Keti Koti, the annual celebrations which mark the end of slavery in the Netherlands, a public holiday every five years would also be an important signal to the descendants of slaves who ‘are still dealing with the impact’, Baldewsingh said.

In addition ‘excuses help in healing,’ the coordinator said. The Dutch central bank, ABN Amro bank and the cities of Rotterdam, Utrecht and Amsterdam have all apologised for their role in slavery, which was finally abolished in the former colonies of Suriname and the Dutch Antilles on July 1,1863.

The government has so far resisted calls to do so. Nevertheless, earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that the Dutch government is both planning to apologise for its role in slave trade and set up a fund for projects that aim to raise awareness about the legacy of slavery.

Headscarves

The government has also consistently opposed plans to allow police officers and council wardens to wear headscarves or other symbols of religion. Justice minister Dilan Yesilgöz in March restated this position, after several local authorities said they were considering allowing wardens to cover their heads.

However, says Baldewsingh, wearing religious symbols does not need to compromise the professionalism or neutrality of the police. ‘The idea that they would not be able to do their jobs without bias is both wrong and stigmatising,’ he said.

‘We are losing the opportunity to strengthen police numbers with a large group of women.’ Reports of discrimination and racism have increased in recent years and this ‘requires a tough approach to every form of exclusion,’ the coordinator said.

The report is based on recommendations from dozens of organisations and private individuals as well as 22 town hall sessions with members of the public. The cabinet has agreed to allow people with names derived from their slavery roots to change them free of charge.

More details will be published before the end of the year.

(DutchNews)

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Government cannot soften all the pain, finance minister says

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The government can only take away part of the financial problems facing people and the bill will have to be picked up by future generations, finance minister Sigrid Kaag told MPs on Tuesday afternoon.

‘We cannot eradicate all the consequences of mounting inflation and help everyone,’ Kaag said in her speech, in which she also warned that money spent now on shoring up spending power cannot be spent on education and healthcare.

The fundamentals of the Dutch economy are strong, and industry has bounced back in the wake of the pandemic, Kaag told MPs, as she handed over the government’s 2023 spending plans to parliament.

‘That foundation gives hope for the future and room in the present,’ she said. ‘We can handle this because these exceptional times that call for exceptional measures, an outstretched hand and solidarity.’

At the same time, it is also the government’s duty to invest in tomorrow as well as help people in need at the moment, she said. Therefore, the government would also be spending €35 billion on making the country climate neutral by 2050.

‘Billions’ more will be spent on education and ensuring equal opportunities and €5 billion more has been allocated to defence, the minister said. ‘The Netherlands is a resilient country,’ she said.

‘We can achieve a lot when politicians, business and society work together, when strong shoulders carry the heaviest burden.’

(DutchNews)

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Prime Minister updates on handling of Tropical Storm Fiona

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs, Silveria Jacobs hereby updates the public on the weather, handling of Tropical Storm Fiona and related business and school openings. Warnings, as they relate to Tropical Storm Fiona, have been lifted as of Saturday evening as it moved away from Sint Maarten.

As of the 6:00am forecast, the flood advisory was still in effect, as rain and scattered thunderstorms were still expected throughout the day. However, the flood advisory was discontinued at 6:00pm today, September 18.

All businesses were given the green light to be open as of Sunday September 18 at 6:00 am at their own discretion. Some church activities chose to go online today to avoid unnecessary moving. The road remained relatively quiet during Sunday.

After a positive assessment, Princess Juliana International Airport resumed normal operations at 7:00am today. There were flight delays and cancellations, so those with travel plans are urged to contact their airlines for updates.

The Port is open, however, due to rough sea conditions with large swells, it was still unsafe for berthing. Another assessment was done at 2:30pm this afternoon. Updates will be provided by the Port authorities.

ESF 5, KPSM updated that, generally before, during and after the Storm Warnings most things went smoothly; cooperation with VKS and military was very good to maintain public order. The public compliance to the regulations in place was very high with very few measures needing to be taken. Police and Military also assisted to clear roads where needed. Military assistance ended officially at 3:00pm today. Road users are asked to continue to be cautious on the wet roads.

There was also solid cooperation with the Ministry of VROMI to prepare the trenches for the influx of water in the drainage systems, but also for clearing the roads thereafter.

The Minister of VROMI updated that cleaning of all roads where debris, rocks and mud littered the roads took place up to last evening. The Point Blanche areas, where rocks and mud fell into the streets was cleaned as much as possible and will receive another assessment to plan further cleanup. The clean-up of the rest of Sint Maarten will continue.

ESF 7, which oversees the shelters team under Community Development, Family and Humanitarian Affairs (CDHFA), consisted of CDFHA staff; K1 Britannia; Red Cross; Police; VKS; WIEMS; and Leaders for Change volunteers. The team worked nonstop from the preparation of the shelter to open at 4:00pm on Friday, September 16, to ensuring proper management and successful closure at 5:00pm Saturday, Sept 17, and ensuring that those seeking shelter were safely accommodated thereafter. There was a great partnership and collaboration between government and NGO/CSOs.

ESF 10 wishes to thank all stakeholders, Harbor; Airport; hotels; critical infrastructure, such as major food suppliers; Sol; gas stations; and major hardware stores for their excellent communication and swift cooperation.

“This afternoon Sunday Sept 18, together with staff of DCOMM, we toured the island from East to West,” said Prime Minister Jacobs. The tour was organized to ascertain the impact of the storm, which caused minimal damage for the clean-up to repair.

The Prime Minister went on to state, “Tropical Storm Fiona was upgraded to a Hurricane and is causing massive flooding in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, which highlights the dangers we have escaped as a country. We pray for those on Fiona’s path and give thanks that the impact on St. Maarten was minimal. We give gratitude for minimal damage, as clean-up continues. As seas remain rough with swells, caution is advised. This is not the time to let our guards down, as the weather has not fully cleared up. For those who operate small craft, we ask that you exercise extreme caution and sea bathers limit their activities until the waters have completely settled. I commend the people for adhering to the warnings, it was through your cooperation that we were able execute safety measures without dire incidents.”

The Prime Minister wishes to extend a special word of thanks to her colleagues in the Council of Ministers, EOC, back office, supporting ESF coordinators and their teams, especially Meteorological Office, Mr. Isaac and his team, the Minister of VROMI and his team, Minister of Justice, DCOMM, KPSM, VKS, Marines, CDFHA and all volunteers who executed these safety measures.

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Heyliger-Marten provides overview of Parliamentary year activities

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - Grisha Heyliger-Marten, the President of Parliament, provided a summary of her activities for the legislative year 2021–2022 in a press release issued on Sunday.

Heyliger-Marten said that the St. Maarten populace deserves accountability from Parliament regarding how it spends taxpayer dollars. "As the Parliament, we give a summary of attendance statistics, the number of meetings, and other events. However, as individual MPs, we must also account for the job we have been doing on behalf of the people,” Heyliger-Marten stated.

She stated that during the previous legislative year, over 44% of her work involved issues pertaining to Parliament in general, such as the work directly related to the position of President.

This included handling and passing the budget for 2022 (February), holding introductory meetings with the high Councils of State, attending the EUROLAT meeting and the International Workshop of Scholars and Parliamentarians in Argentina (April), hosting the IPKO (May), holding introductory meetings with the President of Parliament and Prime Minister of Curaçao, and the US consul (June), and finishing the backlog of more than 60 unfinished Parliamentary meetings.

Heyliger-Marten spent over 28% of her time on the Ministry of General Affairs, which was the second-largest category she focused on. This includes letters to the Prime Minister asking questions and offering advice about the COHO, capacity building, and decolonization (May and August).

Additionally, three letters to the Prime Minister were sent asking for the SOAB report on TELEM to be sent to Parliament and for an open discussion on its conclusions (September 29th, 2021, March 22nd, June 27th, and August 17th, 2022).

During the most recent legislative year, the Ministry of Justice made up around 16% of HeyligerMarten’s total workload. As Chairlady of the Justice Committee in Parliament, she asked the Minister of Justice to arrange a quick visit to the Point Blanche prison in September 2021; the visit took place on November 2, 2021.

She also wrote to the Minister of Justice in October 2021 to inquire about the latest information regarding inmate protests at Point Blanche Prison. Heyliger-Marten also requested that the Minister of Justice notify Parliament on the status of the execution of Motion No. 2 from June 30, 2021.

Concerns about the way the immigration controls were being executed were expressed in a letter that was sent to the Minister of Justice in February 2021. About 4% of Heyliger-Marten's workload was dedicated to the Ministries of Finance, TEATT, and ECYS.

This included (follow-up) letters to the Minister of TEATT regarding the implementation of the GEBE "Tariff-60" for seniors. It also included a joint follow-up letter to the Ministers of TEATT and Finance with suggestions to increase local revenues and a letter to the Minister of Finance dated August 17th, 2022, with questions and suggestions regarding securing Sint Maarten's financial-economic viability, stability, and sustainable development.

Heyliger-Marten convened a conference with the Ministry of ECYS to discuss finalizing a national anthem for St. Maarten in November 2021. The Minister of ECYS received the meeting report and will be addressing it going forward. Additionally, she reminded the Minister of ECYS in a letter of her concerns regarding alleged anomalies in the Philipsburg Jubilee Library.

In October of 2020, the original letter was delivered to the Minister. Numerous meetings were called throughout the period in her role as the Chairwoman of the Committee of Justice and the Ad Hoc Electoral Reform Committee (AHCR).

In the Justice Committee, roughly six sessions were scheduled between October 2021 and June 2022, and they culminated in a project centered on the revision of the criminal code. Approximately four meetings regarding the AHCR were called between March and September 2022, one of which resulted in the committee choosing to put out a TOR for the amendment of certain laws; ship jumping, and dismantling of Parliament, to name a few.

Heyliger-Marten stated that her schedule has changed dramatically toward general parliamentary concerns after taking office as President in November 2021. “As President, you must adopt a more impartial stance and concentrate more on overseeing the central committee and public meetings of Parliament.

Nevertheless, with the assistance of my colleague MPs and the staff of Parliament, I was able to combine the duties of being an MP and the President of Parliament,” she said.

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