De Weever: protect employees when companies change owner

POSTED: 06/29/12 1:09 PM

Short term labor contract abuse requires “comprehensive approach”

St. Maarten – Labor Affairs Minister Cornelius de Weever wants legislation to protect the rights of employees in the event business operations are transferred to a new owner. The minister announced this in a Central Committee meeting yesterday morning that dealt with the National Alliance faction’s initiative draft law to curb the abuse of short term labor contracts.
“St. Maarten does not provide legislation like the Netherlands that safeguards the rights of employees if the company where they work is transferred to a third party,” De Weever said.
“In practical terms, the employee is, in such a situation, totally dependent on the position of the new employer, and ultimately on the judgment of the court. I think this is a highly undesirable situation and therefore I believe that further legislation is necessary to ensure the rights of the employees.”
Though the Minister did not refer to the prime example of such a transfer of ownership, the wish to write this legislation is most likely inspired by the demise of the Pelican Resort Club and its re-emergence under not-so-new ownership as the Simpson Bay Resort and Marina. The Wifol union and the resort have been entangled in lawsuits for the past year and a half over the position of Pelican resort workers who have not been kept in their position under the changed ownership. Those who kept their job are working under lesser conditions.
Independent Member of Parliament Romain Laville agrees with the minister and presented him with a copy of the relevant articles from the Dutch Civil Code.
Initiative law
The National Alliance draft law aims to prohibit companies from hiring employees on a temporary contract for jobs that are not of a temporary nature – like for instance cashiers at supermarkets. If parliament passes the legislation, employers will always need permission from the Labor Office to hire somebody on a temporary contract.
But Minister de Weever seemed not convinced that the legislation the National Alliance proposes will fix the ills it aims to address. He told members of the Central Committee that there is a need for a new vision “to meet the political and social concerns that have brought this subject to the forefront.”
De Weever said the situation with short term contracts ought to be placed in the context of the labor market policy.
“This policy has complex facets, and they are all interrelated. An integrated approach is therefore essential.”
The Minister said that he had commissioned the Labor Department to develop this comprehensive approach and that the first results are already there. Part of the approach are social dialogue, additional regulations for employment agencies and for the termination of employment, solutions for “the perceived abuse of short-term contracts” and regulations that govern the rights of employees in the event of a transfer of business operations.
De Weever said that regulations for employment agencies have recently been sent to the tripartite committee for further handling.
“All parties have expressed the need to enact measures to counter abuses in the staffing industry.”
The minister also said that he is going for a faster and more effective dismissal procedure. This new procedure will be “more straightforward and effective, but it will also provide more certainty for employers and employees,” De Weever said.
The minister announced that he had recently received an advice from the Labor Department on the abuse of short term labor contracts.
“It offers a coherent picture of the importance and use of short-term employment contracts, but also solutions to the abuse.”
But de Weever made clear that he is not after legislation that might stifle the economy.
“I strongly believe that finding a good balance between the much-needed use of flexible labor and strengthening the livelihoods of the workers is essential. The economy of St. Maarten cannot function without the use of flexible labor. New regulations and measures should not interfere with the dynamics of our economy. My Department of Labor is working hard to protect the rights of workers, but to my explicit instruction, they also have a keen eye for the economic dynamics.”
Justice Minister Roland Duncan advised the central committee to revisit the ordinance that regulates the establishment of companies in St. Maarten and to tackle the issue from that angle.
He said that, while the parliament is looking to close loopholes in the use of short term labor contracts, it should also keep an eye on fair business practices and corporate citizenship.
“Every time an employer circumvents the rules, he is undermining the social system and the rules for fair competition,” Duncan said.
MP Louie Laveist, one of the signatories to the draft legislation mentioned in particular the casino industry as a sector that abuses short term labor contracts by moving staff from one casino to the next one, every time on a new temporary contract.
“Hundreds of casino workers are the victim of the abuse of short term labor contracts. They cannot go to the bank for a mortgage to buy a piece of land. Banks want to see permanent labor contracts.”
DP-MP Roy Marlin said that the draft law is similar to the one that was introduced in Aruba a couple of years ago. He asked for a possible evaluation of the situation in Aruba. He also warned that the legislation should not stifle business. “
That defeats the purpose,” he added.
Independent MP Romain Laville supports the draft law.
“It is time for action,” he said.
“It may not be foolproof but at least it is a start.”

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