PHILIPSBURG–“Hasty, uncoordinated and haphazard” were terms used by United Democrats (UD) Member of Parliament (MP) Sarah Wescot-Williams to describe the decision of Minister of Health, Labour and Social Affairs VSA Pamela Gordon-Carty to institute a new employment permit policy.
The MP also questioned the status of the National Employment Service Centre.
Wescot-Williams said St. Maarten is regulated by national ordinance, which states that the VSA Ministry includes the Department of Labour, responsible for policy and implementation agency “uitvoeringsorganisatie”, which is responsible for Labour Affairs.
She questioned where the new National Employment Service Centre, whose representatives have a role in the new employment permit policy, fits into the legal organisation of St. Maarten.
“Is this just the name given to that operating arm of the Labour Ministry or is this a new organisation to be created? Is the plan to outsource the tasks of this agency as outlined in the minister’s policy announcement? The name would suggest this is something new,” the MP said in a press release on Thursday.
“The task of this National Employment Service Centre seems to be quite extensive, as it is supposed to, among other [things – Ed.], participate in all employment interviews. How effective can that be?”
She said that while it is the ministry’s duty to promote the provision of sufficient employment for residents according to the Constitution, the question remains how this will be done.
“It is also the minister’s responsibility to execute the foreign labour ordinance and I want to commend the minister for her efforts in this regard. This ordinance is clear. [It allows] foreign work permits only for jobs for which local labour is not available. I have doubts, however, that the way the minister is proceeding with this execution to secure local employment will have the effect that the minister is envisioning.”
The MP draws this conclusion because of questions on how the National Employment Service Centre is organised. She wants to know whether it falls within or outside the VSA Ministry and how it will be staffed.
“In addition to that, what I miss from the minister’s announcement is consultation with the tripartite consultative body of labour, business and government, especially where labour matters are concerned. If the government of St. Maarten really wants durable buy-in by the labour and business sectors, they will have to be involved,” she insisted.
She alluded to plans by the VSA Ministry to consult with stakeholders regarding changes to the Labour Book in the Civil Code.
“These changes included amendments by Members of Parliament, respectively Tamara Leonard and myself, in the areas of maternity and paternity leave as well as short-term labour contracts and transfer of business. I am still awaiting these consultations,” she said.
“On the matter of the National Employment Service Centre and the policy for foreign labour permits, what is also not evident from the minister’s statement is the data based on which the minister has taken the decisions that she has taken,” the MP noted.
Wescot-Williams said there had been 472 new registrations for unemployment in 2018. She wants to know whether the situation is taking into account the Emergency Training and Income Support Programme as financed via the Trust Fund. “Has this added to our unemployment or has this helped lower unemployment?” She alluded to statements by the minister, who said in January that further analysis of the labour market and the employment situation was required.
Wescot-Williams: “The government admitted at the time that the employment data of the Labour Department and the results of the labour survey could not be corroborated. According to the government, ‘we have a reported 6,636 unemployed, according to the 2019 Labour Survey.’
“These are some of the questions that officially will be submitted to the minister to receive more information regarding the ministry’s new policy on handling requests for foreign labour. Finally, I query whether a policy of this nature should not have awaited the incoming Minister of VSA.”
Wescot-Williams said she looks forward to more information on the National Employment Service Centre.