~ Move stifling their operations ~
PHILIPSBURG–Nine of the eleven adult entertainment centres operating in St. Maarten are taking Government to court over the abrupt discontinuation of the processing of employment and residence permits for exotic dancers, pending the finalisation of a new policy.
The clubs are particularly concerned that since the discontinuation four months ago, no mechanism has been put in place for them to bring in girls in the interim to sustain their operations while the new policy is being ironed out. The situation is stifling their operations and could lead to their closure with ripple effects that could affect more than 100 workers, the clubs said.
Government stopped issuing permits late last year and has indicated that it is working on a new policy to grant independent entrepreneurship licences to exotic dancers who wish to operate in St. Maarten.
Government’s move is based on a court stipulation that said, based on international law, that under the previous policy Government could be held as a “conspirator in committing a crime” as far as human slavery is concerned.
The clubs, which have organised themselves in the Adult Entertainment Foundation, filed an injunction and an administrative procedure against Government last week. The clubs are hoping that the court will force Government to honour the current (discontinued) policy and process the applications received for permits since December, until the new policy is in place.
The administrative procedure concerns the blanket turning-down of permit requests that were submitted after the discontinuation.
Attorney Jairo Bloem and representatives of the nine clubs in the association – Border Bar, Casa Blanca, Bada Bing, El Capitan, Le Petit Chateau, Red Diamond, Platinum, Defiance Haven and Crystal Bar – outlined the clubs’ plight to media representatives on Tuesday.
Bloem said the clubs had learnt of Government’s plans to stop issuing permits via the media and unofficially from civil servants. None of the clubs were officially informed of the discontinuation, he said. Also, none of the clubs in the association were approached for their input in the development of a new policy, which the clubs believe is important.
The attorney said club owners believed Government’s sudden and unexpected decision, with no transition arrangement in place, was a deliberate attempt to strangle their operations and put them out of business. He called the move unprofessional, irresponsible, inappropriate and unacceptable.
Justice Minister Edson Kirindongo invited the clubs to a meeting on the matter on February 19 where he gave his position on the issue. The clubs shared their concerns with the Minister at that meeting and he promised them he would address their concerns and meet with them following the 2016 budget debate. However, the clubs said nothing had been done and they had not received a second audience with the Minister to date.
With no solution in sight, the clubs filed an injunction and an administrative procedure against Government in late February. However, the Department of Labour sent a package of rejected permits to the court on March 1, one day before the case was to be heard. This led to the filing of the second case last week.
The clubs said they contributed significantly to Government’s coffers when they applied for permits for their dancers. Bloem said an estimated US $1.2 million on permit fees alone was ploughed into Government’s coffers annually by the nine clubs collectively.
The clubs want Government to respect the current policy, seek their input for the new policy, determine a reasonable transition period for the new policy and allow them to operate.
The club representatives said the negative effects of the discontinuation were being felt already and were impacting their operations. Their dancers, who are granted permits to operate in the country for six months, will be leaving the island soon, as their permits are about to expire. Some clubs already have received letters from Immigration informing them that their dancers have to leave.
With no measure in place pending the introduction of the new policy, the clubs said they could not bring in new girls to replace those who are leaving and those who already have left. This has resulted in reduction of income.
The representative of at least two of the clubs present said they had been forced to dismiss four of their staff already. A representative of a strip club in Simpson Bay said that club would be forced to close next month if nothing was done quickly to rectify the situation.
Bloem said any closure of clubs would lie on Government’s shoulders. Government also will be responsible for the monetary consequences of any closure that occurs, he added.
One club owner said he would have to resort to hiring local girls to continue his operations if this situation continued. He said some local girls already were lined up for work.
Collectively the clubs hire a total of 90 to 135 workers, who will be placed on the breadline if their operations are affected.
Representatives of the clubs said the adult entertainment industry had been around in St. Maarten since 1947 and served an important role in the country as well as in the tourism industry. One club owner said a large number of cruise ship passengers and crew members used the clubs’ services. The clubs also are patronised by residents.
The closure of the clubs can result in an increase in rape on the island, a phenomenon that occurred in the country prior to the establishment of clubs, they said. One club alluded to St. Lucia, which he said was facing a problem of rampant rapes of women.
Bloem said the clubs had nothing against authorities drafting new policies that would lead to the improvement of the industry, but the process of coming to a new policy takes time and clubs should be allowed to continue their operations in the interim.
As it relates to human smuggling and trafficking, the clubs said they never had supported having the dancers as their employees and had advised Government that it was best for the girls to be independent workers in their establishments.
However, former Labour Minister Cornelius de Weever introduced contracts the clubs had to sign with the dancers stipulating that they were their employees, they contended.
Bloem said that if any of the dancers wanted to leave, the clubs facilitated their doing so.