PHILIPSBURG–Labour Minister Emil Lee emphasised on Wednesday the need for the labour and tax laws to be adhered to, as exemptions for foreign entities would create an unlevel playing field for St. Maarten businesses and workers.
Government and Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Affairs VSA recognise that St. Maarten’s recovery and reconstruction are ongoing and require the support of international companies, resulting in businesses employing foreign labourers with skills that may not be available locally. However, all businesses, local and foreign, are required to adhere to the local laws and employment-permit procedures.
“Exemptions put local companies and local people at a disadvantage. The rebuilding of structures is important, but in our opinion it is equally important that our economy be rebuilt. This means that local companies and local employees must be part of the process. Our philosophy is ‘rule for one, rule for all’,” Lee said during the Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday.
He said labour inspectors have gone and will continue to go out on controls to ensure that laws and regulations are adhered to. Local and foreign companies must contribute and remain compliant to the applicable tax and social premium legislation while also adhering to all the mandatory employment permit requirements.
In addition to enforcement, the Ministry has been working to actively train residents who are interested in participating in the reconstruction economy via the skills-training programme as a means of strengthening this sector of the labour force.
“We all agree that it is in the best interest of our economy that we are flexible, so as not to delay our reconstruction processes. This flexibility also has to be balanced in making sure that we have local involvement in our projects,” Lee said.
He gave an example of a relief organisation that has been working in St. Maarten offering “much needed aid” services post-Hurricane Irma. In the example, Lee said the relief organisation required highly skilled employees trained not only in the reconstruction process, but also familiar with the specific requirements of handling the specific aid processes.
In this situation, it was established that this was an expert function that was not available locally and that the training of a local worker for this function would delay the process of providing the necessary reconstruction aid services. The role of the Ministry in this situation was to facilitate in expediting the employment permit process. However, the relief organisation was still obligated to meet the requirements and adhere to the local tax and labour regulations.
The philosophy of government and the VSA Ministry has always been that St. Maarten businesses and people must come first. This principle is incorporated in the governing programme, the National Recovery and Resilience Programme, and the Trust Fund Administrative Arrangement.
Lee encouraged fellow ministers to continue to execute multi-disciplinary controls – in particular with the Department of Immigration.
“We do recognise that there are too many people on the island without proper documentation. This poses a huge burden on the country’s limited resources and so, in order to secure these, we believe that a collaborative effort between the ministries is necessary to improve the compliance in St. Maarten,” Lee said.
Companies that have questions or are unclear about the procedures can contact the Department of Labour Affairs for assistance, he said.