SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - Following Saturday’s industrial action by a majority of the country’s air traffic controllers, Party for Progress (PFP) Members of Parliament (MPs) Melissa Gumbs and Raeyhon Peterson have renewed their call for Government to establish an official poverty line, as well as the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).
“This weekend’s industrial action is symptomatic of what the entire country is currently going through. From air traffic controllers to ambulance drivers, police officers, bartenders and wait staff, many workers in Sint Maarten are still struggling to put food on their tables and pay their monthly bills,” said MP Gumbs on Sunday. “Although some have criticized the air traffic controllers for potentially shutting down the airport at this critical time in the high season, the fact remains that the Government still lacks data to know the social and economic situations that our people find themselves in. This is necessary for proper planning and measures to help the most vulnerable.”
“To comply with the Dutch conditions for liquidity support, the Government slashed salaries by 12.5 percent. More than ever, we should now establish an official poverty line to know how these cuts will affect families and their livelihoods,” added MP Peterson. “As PFP, we reiterate that we understand the need for conditions, but these conditions need to take Sint Maarten’s realities into account. Wages are low compared to other islands in the Dutch Caribbean, but we have the highest cost of living, which is further exacerbated by the fact that our spending power is diminished in a guilder-earning economy that runs on US dollars.”
“As a country, we needed to do some belt tightening. However, our negotiating position with the Dutch Government would have been stronger if we had an established poverty line available. We could have argued with evidence, and thus more convincingly, emphasizing how the conditions would have affected the average citizen. Instead, we went into the talks with nothing but opinions and emotions. Establishing a poverty line should have already been in place after ten years as an autonomous country in the Dutch kingdom,” said MP Gumbs.
MPs Gumbs and Peterson are also gravely concerned that the cost-of-living adjustment has been delayed since 2013.
“This is unacceptable. In times of economic crisis, every little bit counts, especially for pensioners and single parents. Therefore, I urge the Government to finalize the cost-of-living adjustment immediately,” said MP Peterson.
“Finalizing the cost-of-living adjustment and establishing the poverty line are small steps, but it is the least we can do to help alleviate some of the hardships faced by Sint Maarten workers, especially considering the disasters we’ve faced in the past five years,” said MP Gumbs. “Regarding the concerns of the air traffic controllers, I urge the Government, as the sole shareholder of the airport, to do everything in its power to help settle the controllers’ grievances with the operating company.”