PHILIPSBURG–The short time frame to apply, business exclusions, and requiring that all employees must agree to a pay cut are some of the criticisms the Employers Council has levelled against the business payroll support programme of the St. Maarten Stimulus and Relief Plan (SSRP).
The Employers Council – an umbrella organisation comprising St. Maarten Marine Trades Association (SMMTA), St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA), Indian Merchants Association (IMA) and St. Maarten Timeshare Association (SMTA) – also criticised government for not consulting with the private sector before rolling out the programme.
Stipulating that all employees must agree to a 20 per cent pay reduction for a business to be eligible for June payroll support has left some employers “hanging out to dry,” said the council. “Employers who, in good faith, paid their employees for this month [June – Ed.] are now left hanging out to dry if just one of their employees refuses to sign the required statement drafted by government.”
The council also criticised the payroll support programme’s requiring using Social and Health Insurances SZV-registered wages, which include vacation pay, fixed bonuses, allowances, shares in service charge and tip pools, and commissions, among other things.
As some businesses have been closed since mid-March, these employers have not paid these performance-based wages to employees. Subsequently, some businesses cannot qualify for payroll, said the council.
Several businesses were excluded from payroll support in April. While this list excluded fewer businesses in May, the council has criticised the exclusion list for being illogical.
Businesses that suffered significant income losses were still unable to qualify, the council said. “Supermarkets come to mind, even though they had to close for a few weeks and lost additional revenue because of the absence of tourists and the closure of the border,” said the council.
The council speculated whether the exclusion list was not made intentionally broad to prevent overspending. “The published number of businesses that applied for support and the amount of support paid out is significantly below the anticipated number and budgeted amount,” said the council.
The council said many businesses are still waiting for government to determine whether they are eligible for support.
They also said the conditions for June payroll support were published late and the portal was only accessible in early August.
Finance Minister Ardwell Irion said last week that the Dutch government had required changes for June payroll support in mid-May, which left little room to overhaul the programme in time.
“Aside from financial problems, this [late announcement] creates large problems for all employers that did not pay the percentage of SZV-registered wages, established in accordance with the rules of the new system, for the month of June.
“Employers that paid more will find it difficult to get their employees to agree; when they paid less, they may not qualify. … Even though adjustments in pay are allowed on a later date, it still creates unnecessary problems for both employers and employees while it also adds to the lack of trust between employers and employees,” said the council.
The council said these issues could have been avoided if consultation between social and economic partners had taken place during the process of designing the SSRP.
“The development of the initial programme, applied to April and May, was done by government without any real consultation with the social partners. While it is understandable that the formal legislative process was not adhered to, the complete lack of consultation is not,” said the council, adding that the SSRP has been implemented with little flexibility.
The council requests that government and Windward Islands Chamber of Labour Unions (WICLU) restart “the process of consultation.”