Opinion: Rui: a Christmas storyPOSTED: 12/30/11 11:59 AM
Rui Bagina is desperate and we honestly do not know what to do about his situation. Rui came to our office with a letter he wanted us to publish. After careful consideration we told him that its content was rather vague and that our readers would not understand what it was all about. Be more specific, we told him. Not long afterwards, Rui came back with an amended version. This is his story.
Ten years ago, Rui got involved in his first court case, and many others would follow. Now, he says, he wants to go back with his family to his native Portugal. But there is no money for traveling and there does not seem to be anybody around ready to help.
So what were all those court cases about? Working overtime without being paid for it; working 65 to 75 hours a week; robbed of cash and credit card tips by several employers; working seven days per week.
True, that’s all rather vague and in a way it reminds us of a story a man once told to everybody who wanted to hear it at the post office in Marigot. The man said that he was working for an employer who did not pay him. Not after the first month, not after the second month, not after …. How long have you been working there? someone asked him. Eight months, the man replied. That left everyone stunned.
Okay, Rui’s story is not the same. He’s been in and out of court, but he is not finding satisfaction within the legal system on the French side. My lawyers refuse to do hard work for me, he says, because I do not have cash to pay them. Before, the Office for Judicial Help used to pay attorneys for pro bono cases. They used to pay slowly; but these days they do not pay at all. At least, that’s what one of Rui’s friends who works at a lawyer’s office told him.
So now the lawyers prefer to tell prospective clients who depend on financial aid for their legal assistance, that they cannot accept their file rather than accepting them and waiting like forever to be paid.
Rui says he knows this is true, since he asked the Office for Judicial Help already on April 12 of this year for assistance on four cases – against Sunset Cafe, Santal, St. James furniture and Radisson. Normally, Rui says, the office takes two weeks for a decision, but in his case it took no decision at all.
Rui says that his court cases are about financial claims against former employers. The money these employers have would be enough for me to take my family back to my country, he says. I have a home there, I can find a job and my children will get a better education.
Rui’s letter was addressed to the French local authorities. It contains a complaint about the violation of his human rights, and his rights to work a complaint about labor exploitation and modern slavery.
Literally, Rui wrote, I am a victim of labor exploitation and modern day slavery in saint Martin. I am a victim of discrimination in the eyes of the French labor legislation and the European convention of human rights.
Rui has been a French-side resident for thirteen years. He is now accusing employers of unscrupulous behavior but he also has a beef with the French government “that is allowing this kind of irregularities.” The French government, Rui says, is responsible for my deteriorating health. My right to work, my right to defend my own rights, my dignity and my right to be happy, in peace and harmony with my family, have been violated on several occasions for the past eleven years.
We spoke with Rui when he delivered his letter. Behind the words, that may come over at times as slightly confused, is a real human tragedy. Rui is near the end of his tether – we saw it in his eyes, and in his body language.
In a way, this is a sad Christmas story. We gave Rui our opinion: that he should not expect any help from the French government after writing such a letter, or from the local government in Marigot. Apparently, there is no help to be expected from a Portugese consulate or embassy either.
So what to do? We recognize Rui’s letter as a genuine cry for help. Is there anybody out there to help Rui and his family on their way?
If you are willing to help, contact this newspaper at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll forward your offer to Rui.