SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) – Minister of Labour Emil Lee puts emphasis on adhering to the labour and tax laws, blanket exemptions for foreign entities would create an unleveled playing field for Sint Maarten businesses and workers. The Government and Ministry of VSA recognizes that the recovery and reconstruction of Sint Maarten is ongoing and requires the support of international companies. With the result of employing foreign skilled laborers, that may not be available locally. However, all businesses, local and foreign are required to adhere to the local laws and employment permit procedures.
“Exemptions put local companies and local people at a disadvantage. The rebuilding of structures is important but in our opinion, it is equally important that our economy be rebuilt. This means that local companies and local employees must be part of the process. Our philosophy is, rule for one, rule for all.” – Minister of Labour Emil Lee
Labour inspectors have and will continue to go out on controls to ensure that the laws and regulations are adhered to. The local and foreign companies must contribute and remain compliant to the applicable tax and social premium legislation while also adhering to all the mandatory employment permit requirements. In addition to enforcement, the Ministry has been working to actively train residents who are interested in participating in the reconstruction economy via the skills training program, as a means of strengthening this sector of the labour force. Minister Lee commented: “We all agree that it is in the best interest of our economy that we are flexible, so as not to delay our reconstruction processes. This flexibility also has to be balanced in making sure that we have local involvement in our projects.”
Minister Lee pointed out an example of a relief organization that has been working on Sint Maarten offering much needed aid services post-Irma. In the example, Minister Lee elaborated that the relief organization required highly skilled employees trained not only in the reconstruction process but also familiar with the specific requirements of handling the specific aid processes. In this situation, it was established that this was an expert function that was not available locally and that the training of a local worker for this function would delay the process of providing the necessary reconstruction aid services. The role of the Ministry in this situation was to facilitate in expediting the employment permit process. However, the relief organization was still obligated to meet the requirements and adhere to the local tax and labour regulations.
The philosophy of Government and the Ministry of VSA has always been that Sint Maarten businesses and people must come first. This principle is incorporated in the Governing program, the National Recovery and Resilience Program” National Recovery and Resilience Program, Section 3: Guiding Principles to enhance resilience: Inclusive people-centered approach: The people of Sint Maarten must be fully engaged in the actual implementation and monitoring of the recovery and resilience interventions. All NRRP initiatives should reflect and promote gender equity and the social inclusion of the country’s most vulnerable populations” as well as the Trust Fund Administrative arrangement” The Trust Fund Administrative arrangement signed between the Netherlands and the World Bank: Value for Money: Local labour will be used to the greatest possible extent and within the framework of the procurement regulations of the bank, attention will be given to local companies to be part of the implementation”signed between the Netherlands and the World Bank.
Minister Lee encourages fellow Ministers to continue to execute multi-disciplinary controls – in particular with the Department of Immigration. “We do recognize that there are too many people on the island without proper documentation. This poses a huge burden on the countries limited resources and so in order to secure these, we believe that a collaborative effort between the ministries in necessary to improve the compliance on Sint Maarten.” For companies who have questions or are unclear about the procedures, the department of Labour Affairs can be contacted for assistance.