The Minister of Labor Mr. Emil Lee came out this week condemning Businesses that are hiring undocumented workers. According to Mr. Lee, these workers are deprived of both Insurance with the SZV and their obligation to pay taxes to the government. The Minister’s silence on labor maters had been deafening until now, and it came only after a recent Immigration check on a construction site saw workers running away and one getting seriously injured, and had to be Hospitalized. The minister seems to now understand the gravity of the situation and seem now ready to address that aspect of the many labor issues before this government. He can no longer be silent now that a case in point landed on his office’s door step. Minister Emil Lee is reminding workers that they have rights to a pay slip that is often not provided by some businesses who are practicing and promoting wrongly in the labor market here on the Island.
Interestingly, The now Minister of Justice Mr. Rafael Boasman is the one who headed the Labor Office in the most recently past, and has passed on a Labor office which many believe, is not only limited but useless when it comes to citizens finding work and believing in the office to provide much needed representation as it relates to the rights of workers outlined in the Labor laws, especially after they have been on the receiving end of exploitation from their employers. Now the reality has struck home and the JUSTICE Minister himself is jumping on the bandwagon with the minister of labor Emil Lee to address these labor concerns that are before them. The Justice Minister, admitting that on a weekly basis, he gets lots of requests on his desk as minister of Justice, to sign documents for construction workers. He said he is not prepared to just turn his attention to the workers requesting permission to work, but the businesses who are engaged in the practice of employing undocumented workers. His intention surely is to hand out fines as penalties to these businesses hiring workers without papers.
The labor force on St. Maarten has been experiencing much exploitation in the private sector for the past two decades or so, with more than 50% of the businesses either failing to hire locals in their workforce, or only hiring workers on a six months contract with no commitment to these personnel but to let them go after their contract is expired. Some are lucky to sign up to three consecutive contracts after which they are sent home for a three months period and possibly rehired under the same conditions. Politicians have identified this practice as “the abuse of the six months contract” and has taken steps to introduce draft legislation to regulate the manipulation of workers in this manner. Until now that bill has not reached the Parliament to be voted on. It’s been several years now and workers are continuing to suffer at the hands of businesses on the Island who prefer hiring new comers, family members and workers without papers.
Another problem facing workers on St. Maarten is the way they are treated when the company they are working for closes. They are often paid only their monthly salary upon closing and nothing more. The labor laws makes provision for workers to be properly compensated for, when the business owners have decided to cease operation, but the workers have nowhere to go to make sure what is rightfully theirs are been paid to them. Now it is confirmed that Fresh Market in Madame Estate is closing its doors, what will happen to the workers? There has been reports as well, that a big Supermarket chain from the French side is eyeing the spot to set up shop in that location; will they be allowed to do so under the same employment conditions? Or will they be allowed to treat the workers with the same disrespect handed out to a majority of the laborers on the Dutch part of the Island.
Just recently, at the 21st Annual International African American Hotel Ownership and Investment Summit and Trade Show, Prime Minister William Marlin, boasted of St. Maarten having (flexible labor laws) and promoting eligibility for new Hotels getting up to 10 years tax free holiday, in his quest to lure business to the Island. Although his attempt might be commendable, one wonders if the Prime Minister is in touch with the real labor situation on the Island and how important it is to have it regulated before new businesses come in with the same old practice of exploiting workers in the name of flexible labor laws. Surely, the workers on St. Maarten deserves better representation.