~ Employers to foot medical bills of undocumented ~
PHILIPSBURG–Labour Minister Emil Lee expressed concern on Wednesday about the low number of bulk requests for expedited, one-time-only employment permits for projects related to the reconstruction of St. Maarten.
He said also that government is looking into the possibility of holding employers liable for the medical bills of their undocumented workers, who fall ill on the job.
Government announced the expedited one-time-only employment permit process recently. As of Wednesday, a total of 62 permits had been granted under the expedited process for the project to rebuild the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort and Casino. The permits were granted to Chinese nationals.
In addition to the 62 Chinese nationals, some 78 local persons are working on the Maho reconstruction either directly through Maho or via subcontractors.
According to Lee, Maho needed a certain skills-set which was not available locally for its project. “They tried to hire locally, but workers were not available, so in order to ensure that the rebuilding process happens timely, those permits were granted. The permits are non-renewable. Once the project is finished, the workers will return to their country of origin. … They are here simply for a project and will not be long-term integrated into our workforce. I believe that this is a win, win situation,” he said.
“My concern is that we haven’t seen more requests [for bulk permits for the expedited process – Ed.]. I know that for the reconstruction process that St. Maarten needs to see moving, that we need to import workers or we will see our economy stagnate as the rebuilding process stagnates.
“We have not received any other bulk project requests, so the idea that there are thousands of permits being given is absolutely not true. My concern is that we haven’t received more. This is an indication that the rebuilding process is going slowly, because we know from the Labour Department that there is not a large number of construction workers [in the country – Ed.].
“What this reflects is … there is a large number of illegal workers on the island who are not registered and not paying their social premiums and this is something that the ministry is taking seriously and we will be ramping up compliance measures soon.”
Lee said companies with undocumented workers should get them documented. “There is an expedited process. You don’t have to do the advertising for construction workers. You don’t have to wait the five weeks, so there is no excuse that you are not applying for an employment permit.”
Regarding holding employers liable for the medical bills of their undocumented workers, Lee referred to an incident last week where government had to foot the bill for emergency air evacuation of an undocumented worker who fell off a roof while working for a homeowner.
“The person fell off a roof and we are stuck with the bill and this is something that the country simply cannot afford and there is no reason for it,” Lee said. “All of these people should be properly documented and be paying taxes and social premiums.”
He said authorities will be looking into the possibility of making employers liable for the medical cost of their undocumented workers. Undocumented workers can still register at Social and Health Insurances SZV and be covered medically and be registered at the Tax Office and paying their taxes. “If we find an employee working for a company and is undocumented and is injured on the job, we will hold the employer responsible for this,” Lee said.