PHILIPSBURG–The St. Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform and the St. Maarten Consumers Coalition want Labour Minister Emil Lee and the Council of Ministers to revisit their decision to not index the minimum wage for 2019.
“We hereby publicly appeal to the Minister of VSA and the whole Council of Ministers to stop this social injustice done to our working families. We demand a task force (be established) to calculate the cost of living in St. Maarten, and what should be a socially- responsible minimum wage, considering all legal possibilities to address this social injustice,” platform representatives said during their weekly press conference on Thursday.
Lee’s office had told this newspaper on behalf of the ministry on Tuesday that a decision was made not to index the 2019 minimum wage, due to several factors including the unavailability of Consumer Price Index (CPI) numbers, which by law is a requirement from the Department of Statistics (STAT) as part of the indexation decision-making process. In addition to this, other factors play a role – such as the fact that the present recovery economy of Sint Maarten, as a result of the 2017 hurricanes is simply not stable enough to manage an increase in the minimum wage limit, Lee’s office had said.
Platform representatives demanded to know who made the decision to not collect and publish CPI data for 2018. According to the Platform, the Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Traffic and Telecommunications (TEATT) Stuart Johnson is responsible to publish the CPI. “The Secretary General of TEATT, according to the National Ordinance on the Organisation of Government, is the one responsible for the daily management of the Ministry.
The Department of Statistics by law is the agency of the Ministry that is charged with the collection of the data, the analysis of the data and the preparation of the publication of the Price indices,” the Platform said.
“In a press release issued in August of 2018, the Director of the STAT Department announced they will not publish the consumer price index of 2018. As reason was given that they were developing a new system of determining price indices which will go into effect on January of this year 2019.
“We want to know who took the decision not to collect and publish this data. Was it the Director of the STAT, the Secretary General of TEATT or the Minister of TEATT? Why we ask this question is because the national ordinance on the production of statistical information on consumer prices has been decreed by Parliament. The Minister, the Secretary General, and the Director of STAT are all responsible to execute the law. They are not allowed to postpone execution of the law. They were not allowed to stop the production of the consumer price indices for 2018,” the Platform maintained.
“How to produce this information can change and they are allowed to decide how they are going to provide the information. But the decision not to provide this information for a whole year is according to us against the law. So, who is responsible for this illegal decision? We have asked the Director of STAT to provide us with estimated consumer price indices for 2018, and got as written answer that they will not provide those data for 2018.”
The Platform has filed an official complaint at the Ombudsman against the decision of the STAT and/or the Secretary General of TEATT and/or the Minister of TEATT, “so that for once and for all, it can be regulated how the executive branch has to respect the ordinances decreed by parliament – the legislative branch.”
The decision to not index the minimum wage was made on October 30, 2018 in consultation with the Department of Labour and several stakeholders, including St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA). The Minimum Wage legislation gives the Minister of Health, Labour and Social Affairs VSA Emil Lee the responsibility to index the minimum wage.
The minimum wage was not indexed for the year 2018. Lee’s cabinet had said earlier that “one of the key considerations in the decision-making process at that time was to try and prevent mass dismissals post-Irma, and increase job opportunities to support the social-economic recovery process. In consultation with the respective stakeholders, it was decided that indexation would negatively affect the opportunities to reduce unemployment and create new job opportunities. Government was operating at a huge deficit with no way to provide much relief, and so providing some sort of stability was deemed more beneficial for the general population moving forward.”
Lee’s cabinet had said at the time that indexation is not mandatory by law, but is optional and takes into account the CPI inflation as provided by the Department of Statistics.