PHILIPSBURG–The unions representing workers in the civil service are firmly opposed to any plans Government may have to include civil servants in its package of 37 cost-cutting measures and the unions will be mobilising their members to protest the move.
The package of 37 cost-cutting measures was put together by Finance Minister Mike Ferrier in collaboration with Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin and had to be discussed in the Council of Ministers. The details have not been released to the media.
“This is unacceptable … and it won’t be taken lightly by the unions,” Windward Islands Chamber of Labour Union (WICLU) President Claire Elshot told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday, adding that the news had come as a “shock.”
She made clear that the unions will be mobilising their members to discuss the matter.
“We will be mobilising workers and will be calling out workers massively to be able to discuss, strategize and discuss how to move forward against this illegal and non-transparent behaviour of their employer [Government – Ed.]. … Some people try to do as if the labour movement is dead in St. Maarten – no we are not. We are not even sleeping. We are here vibrant and we … will make sure that we defend workers tooth and nail,” she said.
Windward Islands Civil Servants Union/Private Sector Union (WICSU/PSU) representative Riegnald Arrindell wondered whether the cuts would include slashing the “handsome compensation” Ministers and Members of Parliament (MPs) “are currently enjoying.”
Elshot was critical of Government for failing to consult with the unions on the matter in any of the settings established where Government can communicate such matters with the workers’ representatives, such as the GOA – Government’s advisory body for matters related to civil servants. WICLU sees the bypassing of unions as the measures being “shoved down the throats” of civil servants.
“We are only hearing that there is a list of 37 measures, but we do not know what it entails,” Elshot said. “As unions, we will not play dumb, deaf and blind and we won’t lie down and play dead either. We already survived Irma and Maria and whatever has to come has to be something that is progressive, not something that will take us backwards.”
She said the rebuilding of the country and measures to improve Government’s income should not hurt the pockets of Government workers.
Elshot said St. Maarten is currently struggling with a shortage of teachers at the elementary, secondary and tertiary education levels and it is not wise to subject this sector to cuts. She said also that the union is not interested in engaging in dialogue regarding cuts for teachers.
Arrindell said that, based on reports from international agencies, one can anticipate that workers’ vacation pay, which is used to supplement their income, would be on the chopping block and wages can be frozen. He questioned the timing of the announcement and alluded to the rising cost of living in the country and the many persons who are still struggling to pay their bills. He also alluded to the impending increase in insurance premiums and the hike in St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) tariffs.
Many civil servants are still reeling from the effects of the September hurricanes. Introducing “austerity measures” now would be “de-motivating and disgusting,” he said. The end result of a wage freeze, Arrindell noted, would be an expansion of the working poor in St. Maarten, where persons are just working to cover their bills.
“What protection, what measure, what policies and actions are being taken to protect the quality of life of the working class and civil servants of St. Maarten? It cannot be said enough that civil servants are the backbone of society. It cannot be emphasised enough that civil servants are the lifeblood of society,” he said, noting that many civil servants have gone beyond the call of duty to assist in rebuilding the country.
He suggested that authorities shift focus to the need for tax reform, tax compliance and tax avoidance, as taxes are one of the primary sources of income for Government. He said the unions will be meeting with their members to document their concerns on this matter and to discuss the broader implications the austerity measures will have on their livelihood.
Elshot: “If these are measures mandated by Holland we need to have our representation speak up and tell the truth. … This is not a call that Holland can make on me and the civil servants whom I represent which are teachers. …
“Holland cannot compare St. Maarten with the [Caribbean Netherlands – Ed.]. Holland made sure that in the [Caribbean Netherlands] workers received an increase after Irma, most likely to buffer the cost of price-gouging. Those workers have also been enjoying vacation allowance at the percentage paid in the Netherlands, which is seven or eight per cent. In St. Maarten, we are by far the only part of the Kingdom still struggling at six per cent.”
Elshot said it is very strange to note that the austerity measures are being pushed down the throats of hardworking civil servants, because there were no consultations. “We would have to return these measures to sender, because they cannot fly in St. Maarten at this time,” she said.
Elshot said her comments on the matter were being made on behalf of the Windward Islands Teachers Union (WITU), WICSU/PSU, police union NAPB and the ABVO St. Maarten union, all of which represent civil servants.
Bron: Daily Herald