~ Sarah: Focus should be on job creation ~
PHILIPSBURG–National Alliance (NA) Members of Parliament (MPs) Rodolphe Samuel and George Pantophlet expressed disappointment on Monday that the abuse of short-term labour contracts is not addressed in the draft national ordinance on labour agreements, which they contended had been the premise of the law when it was initiated.
The two MPs made their position clear during the continuation of a parliamentary session on the subject. Their comments drew reactions from MPs of the governing coalition, one of whom accused them of changing their tunes on the subject.
After hearing the answers from Labour Minister Emil Lee to questions posed in the first round, Samuel said the abuse of short-term labour agreements was one of the main reasons the draft changes had been initiated in the first place.
“This is one of the most important parts of the deliberation and what we were looking to achieve,” he said. “The Minister needs to understand that if this is not in this civil code or in any other law, it is up to us legislators to get it in. … What we set out to achieve is to stem the abuse of short-term labour agreements which has people’s lives tied up. Employers are doing what they want with employees.”
Article 614a in the draft, which was intended to stem the abuse of short-term labour contracts, was omitted from the draft and the matter was said to be addressed in article 668. Lee had said in the past that article 614A contained shortcomings.
Samuel said the draft change in Article 668, which recommends a shorter time span before someone can become permanently employed – 24 months instead of 36 months – just means that employers can send workers home sooner. He said if the abuse of short term contracts is not stemmed in the current draft civil code changes, another initiative law will be brought back to Parliament to address this matter.
Pantophlet apologised to workers for not being able to accomplish what he set out to accomplish, which was to stem the abuse of short-term contracts for jobs of a permanent nature. “This is how we started out,” he said.
He cautioned that St. Maarten is not as big as Canada and countries in Europe and its laws should reflect St. Maarten.
“We need policies that fit St. Maarten realities, not those from big countries. … Stop using their policies and their laws and revisit this short-term contract, because it does not meet the needs of the people,” Pantophlet said, adding that the country cannot allow a law for employers to “play musical chairs” with their workers.
“It’s time for us to fix it. People are frustrated and angry and have been talking about this so long that one would have thought that by today, we would have come with a solution for people to say finally we are working on their behalf,” Pantophlet said noting that while jobs in the hotel and maybe even the construction sector can be of a temporary nature, he could not understand establishments such as some restaurants that have all of their workers on contracts.
He said also that Lee would be called to Parliament to discuss what is being done to assist employees of places such as Divi Little Bay Beach Resort and Sonesta Maho and Great Bay Beach Resorts.
United People’s (UP) party MP Claret Connor said it was disappointing to see MPs “twist and turn” the issues because of the current “season.” He said his understanding of article 668 is that the shortening of the period from three to two years means the time is shortened within which someone can become permanent. Connor said it is important that the informal economy be looked at. He wanted to know what is required from the ministry for the informal economy to be dealt with.
UP MP Tamara Leonard wanted to know what the consequences would be of making all workers permanent all year round. She said some MPs wanted to create the impression that Parliament can pass a law that businesses will have to hire employees and make them permanent.
She also asked to be provided with an example of a business that can only have permanent employees. She said it was her conclusion that if an employee is let go after one or two short-term contracts and is then rehired after three months, the contract on which he or she is placed would not be a new contract, but rather the continuation of the contracts he/she had in the past, after which the person would become a permanent worker.
She said the issue was with enforcement of the laws and indicated that workers were not aware of their rights. She said workers are also oftentimes intimidated by their employers and accept new contracts after being sent home, because they need a job.
Democratic Party (DP) MP Perry Geerlings urged the opposition to come with structural solutions to the problems.
DP MP Sarah Wescot-Williams said many persons will be attracted to St. Maarten at this point and she wanted to know what Government can do, without closing the borders, to ensure that persons who are unemployed in St. Maarten are considered first for job opportunities that become available and that they become “part of the boom.”
She said St. Maarten is living in a new reality and what MPs should be talking about is creating jobs and engaging the business sector for this to happen. “People need jobs today and that’s what we should be talking about,” she said.
At the start of the meeting Lee responded to the questions on the draft civil code changes that were posed during the first round of the meeting.
The meeting was adjourned after the second round and will resume at 10:00am Friday when additional answers will be provided and MPs probably will also vote on the draft amendment.