Opposition applauds labor law changes

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GREAT BAY – While the opposition lauded Minister Emil Lee (Public Health, Social Development and Labor) yesterday afternoon for proposed changes to the civil code to combat abuse of short-term contracts and coalition partners stuck to posing some questions about details, National Alliance MP Hyacinth Richardson was the odd one out when he said that the proposal is “a total failure.”
Minister Lee recapped the history of the legislation that goes back to an initiative-law proposed by the National Alliance and (then) independent MP Frans Richardson in 2011 and then highlighted the proposed changes.
The draft legislation addresses the abuse of fixed-term contracts, but it also protects the rights of employees in case a company changes ownership. Gender equality and maternity leave (from 12 to 14 weeks) are also addressed.
Out of the 89 articles in the previous legislation, 82 were adopted; there are 59 technical changes and 30 content modifications; 4 of these were modified and one was removed.
The proposal states that after a maximum of two instead of three temporary contracts employees become permanent after 24 months (instead of 36).
“Legislation alone cannot address abuse without enforcement and compliance,” the minister said.
Labor reform is necessary, Minister Lee said, because currently the labor market is too rigid. “It prevents mobility and hinders flexibility. The cessantia-system discourages people from changing jobs.”
For this reason, the ministry wants to replace cessantia with a system of unemployment benefits. The retirement age will go up to 65 and the ministry considers the introduction of a unique personal identification number. That could reduce the informal economy.
MP Frans Richardson noted that the draft-legislation is totally different from the draft he submitted in 2011 together with the National Alliance faction. “But I do feel that this is better than nothing,” he said. “Businesses and workers will win with this legislation.”
Richardson asked how the ministry intends to monitor compliance with the legislation.
MP George Pantophlet considered the 24-month term to become permanent after two fixed-term contracts too long and proposed to cut it to 12 months. MPs Rodolphe Samuel and Ardwell Irion later concurred with this idea.
Pantophlet said that he’d heard that in Aruba the fixed-term contracts have been completely abolished. “You have a 2-month probation term and after that you are permanent or you go home,” he said. “If that is so, we are far behind.”
Pantophlet said that he does not trust advice from the International Monetary Fund about the labor market. “You cannot accept a blanket advice without considering local circumstances.”
Pantophlet furthermore offered that maternity leave in Colombia has gone up to 18 weeks.
MP Samuel wanted more clarity about the way the legislation addresses abuse of fixed-term contracts. “Can employers now hire you for two years and then send you home? Is that what we are replacing the old legislation with?”
Samuel said that the original idea of the National Alliance was to fight the abuse of 6-month contracts.
MP Romeo Pantophlet said that he is missing a requirement for employers to identify permanent positions in their companies. “And they will have to fill those positions with locals, that is my opinion,” he said.
“How are we going to afford this?” was a question from MP Perry Geerlings. “This is also about making affordable choices.”
Geerlings also suggested revisiting the policy on minimum wage. “If you want to stimulate the economy, people have to work but they must also receive sufficient rewards for the hours they put in. There are employers who do not give three hoots about the rights of their workers. That way, they don’t give three hoots about the development of St. Maarten either.”
MP Hyacinth Richardson said that he was “extremely disappointed” that it had taken six years before the draft legislation came to Parliament. “Why did none of the previous ministers have the guts to do this?” he said.
Richardson gave a candid insight in previous tripartite meetings he had attended. “Every time the 6-month contract came up, a businessman would ask for a postponement and a unionist, Theophilus Thompson, would support that,” he said.
Assessing the current draft-law versus the proposal of the National Alliance six years ago, Richardson said: “It is destroyed. This will need a lot of amendments to get my blessing. From what I have seen, this is a total failure.”
That was definitely not the opinion of opposition MP Franklin Meyers. He quoted Malcolm X (who in turn quoted this from Shakespeare’s Hamlet in 1964 during a debate at Oxford University): “I, for one, will join in with anyone—I don’t care what color you are—as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.”
“I commend you. You brought it,” Meyers said to Minister Lee. “This takes willingness. If his can improve the life of my people than you have my support.”
MP Sarah Wescot-Williams asked the minister to provide labor market data. She referred to a remark the minister made previously that there are too many work permit requests. Wescot-Williams wants to know for which positions those requests are granted.
The meeting was adjourned until after the summer recess when Minister Lee will provide answers to questions and remarks.

Source: TODAY http://today.sx/local-news/opposition-applauds-labor-law-changes/

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