~ Lee: ‘Gross non-compliance,’ exploitation in workplace ~
PHILIPSBURG–Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) recently initially denied government inspectors from the Inspectorate of Health, Labour and Social Affairs VSA access to their premises to conduct an inspection of its facilities. PJIA informed The Daily Herald that it will be making a statement on the matter today, Thursday.
Health Minister Emil Lee did not identify PJIA by name when he spoke about the matter during the weekly Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday. He just mentioned that a government entity had initially denied the inspectors access. This newspaper later learnt that the entity in question was PJIA.
Lee said he had accompanied three inspectors on the inspection at the time of the incident. He was not happy about the initial denial and he plans to raise it with the management of the government-owned company. “This is clearly inappropriate and I will bring this up with the management of that entity,” Lee told reporters at the briefing.
Lee, who said he likes to go out with the inspectors periodically, said these workers encounter challenges in the execution of their duties and they work in “challenging and interesting” times.
Lee said gross non-compliance exists in the workplace. During the inspection, the inspectors encountered a French St. Martin-based company operating as a general contractor at a construction site in Dutch St. Maarten with workers from Portugal, Venezuela and other countries with no proof of payment of taxes or health insurances for the company or the workers. The company also needs to be registered in St. Maarten.
Lee stressed that if St. Maarten is to recover, everyone needs to make an effort and comply with the laws that exist. There were cases where workers had no medical insurance cards.
Some workers believed their premiums had been paid, but were encountering complications to pick up their cards. In some cases, employers were not compliant and the workers were actually not entitled to cards, as employers had not paid premiums as the workers thought.
Lee said he understands some of the frustration in the community in terms of dealing with Social Health Insurances SZV and its staffers, but he also realizes that SZV is working in challenging times and dealing with issues such as fraud.
He urged employers to understand their responsibility. Irrespective of whether a worker is documented to legally work in the country, he or she is still obligated to pay taxes and social premiums. The ministry will “work with” employers of persons who may not be documented, but are paying their taxes, to “see how we can improve compliance” and matters such as employment permits. Lee said what persons who are not paying taxes are doing is “unforgivable,” as this is something St. Maarten cannot afford.
During the inspection, there were also many workers who had no pay slips. All working persons are entitled to pay slips, as this is also proof that taxes and social premiums have been paid, Lee made clear. He urged workers to ensure that they are getting a pay slip and to walk with a copy of their pay slip, their employment contract and a form of identification. Workers can also snap photos on their mobile phones of their last pay slips and their employment contracts as proof.
Lee said it was “troubling” to see many employers “taking advantage” of workers, many of whom believe they are compliant when they are not due to the negligence of their employers.