Freeze-request decision against Wifol expected on Monday (Simpson Bay Resort)

POSTED: 04/23/12 1:54 PM

St. Maarten – The Common Court of Justice heard Simpson Bay Resort’s request to freeze the April 2-ruling that obliges the company to pay past wages to all Wifol workers, rehire all dismissed workers and pay Wifol $50, 000 in damages. Court-president Mr. J.R. Sijmonsma said after the hearing that the court would take a decision about the request “as soon as possible.” There was no decision yet early yesterday evening, so the ruling is now expected on Monday.

The court gave the attorney for the resort, Mr. Jairo Bloem, twenty minutes to explain the request, and Wifol attorneys Mrs. Wim van Sambeek and Maarten le Poole had the same amount of time to respond.

Mr. Bloem went at high speed through his arguments, saying that there had by now been 18 court cases since the auction of the Pelican resort in December 2010. He pointed out that the appeals court had already rejected Wifol’s argument that the change of ownership amounted to a transfer of company and that the new owners therefore had no obligations towards the employees that worked for Pelican. Mr. Bloem said that the resort had suffered damages from the court cases on top of the $1.3 million it has paid to inactive Wifol-workers up to December 2 of last year.

“In 2011 the resort sold for less than $300, 000 in timeshare rights. The damage is around $1 million per month. Also revenue from renting out unsold units and rent from commercial units went down. The resort saw a large decline in timeshare members; this leads to higher maintenance fees for the remaining members, which in turn leads again to the departure of more members.”

Mr. Bloem said that the April 2 ruling had added $2 million to the resort’s deficit and that the ruling, if executed, would be the resort’s deathblow.

“In one year and four months the new owners have pumped $7 million into the resort and they are not prepared to pay more. It will cost $4.5 million to end the labor contracts with the Wifol-members.”

Mr. Bloem said that the closure of the resort would begin with “all kinds of services that would not be paid anymore,” like the maintenance of facilities.

“We have three options: close the resort, charge the additional costs from the court ruling to the remaining timeshare members, or ask the court to freeze the ruling.”

Mr. Bloem said that the resort currently works with 91 employees, among them 64 Wifol-members. That statement was later contested by Wifol-attorney Van Sambeek, who said that the resort works with 180 employees.

“Half of them come from a manpower agency (of Tamara Leonard – ed.) that is linked to the political party (the United People’s party – ed.) for which managing director Jules James is a member of parliament.”

Van Sambeek opened his response remarking that his client is prepared to negotiate with the resort.

“There is no intention to destroy the resort. Wifol wants to talk; it understands that it is irresponsible to have people sit at home while they keep their salaries. Wifol wants to do everything to clear the situation.”

But the resort claims that an emergency situation exists, van Sambeek said, and it categorically refuses to negotiate. He referred to a letter from the Seminole Tribe of Florida that showed that the tribe is prepared to invest $85 million in the resort.

“I do not understand why the resort follows this procedure (to fight the April 2-ruling – ed.) instead of negotiating. This option must be explored. I am sure that the other party will be ready to talk when its request fails. It is absolutely not so that our client wants to destroy the resort.”

In the second round Mr. Bloem maintained that the resort is in financial difficulties.

“Without structural investments it remains difficult to operate this resort. There is no more maneuvering space, the money is not there.”

Mr. Le Poole noted that there is no emergency situation.

“The opposing party is making a caricature of the mutual interests. It is scandalous to suggest that the Wifol members want to fill their pockets and then disappear. Before the auction in 2010 they were told: nothing will change. They have been fooled.”

The attorney said that the financial information the resort had provided was not independently verified.

“Wifol contests that the resort is in financial difficulties. The management-fee royal resorts gets alone is disproportional; that is an astronomical amount.”

Mr. Le Poole called the suggestion that the resort would close “an attempt at intimidation.”

The regular court case at the Common Court has in the meantime been scheduled for June 27.

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