Independent MP Cornelius De Weever defends counterpart policy

POSTED: 01/25/15 9:14 PM

St. Maarten —Criticism leveled at the Governments Counterpart policy has resulted in Independent Member of Parliament Cornelius De Weever coming to the defense and making it clear that “the counterpart legislation is a law and not just a policy.”

MP De Weever explained that the ministry used the law in one case. “The company took us to court and government lost because according to the judge we did not have a policy on how the law would be used so the labor policy department wrote the counterpart policy in consultation with the Social Economic Council and the Tripartite Committee. One business owner of this tri-partite committee volunteered to have this counterpart policy applied in his company,” MP De Weever said. He added that the implementation guidelines had to be drafted “because I/We do not believe that the counterpart policy or guidelines can be used across the board and that every business would be immediately subjected to it.”

The Independent MP—who ran on the Democratic Party’s ticket in the 2014 election and cited the counterpart policy as a major reason for his deflection to the United People lead coalition shortly thereafter—said yesterday, “government has used and is using the counterpart in the former prime minister stafbureau and the stafbureau of Ministry of Finance, which is reflected in Budget 2015.

“During my tenure as Chairman of the St. Maarten Medical Center managerial board we used the counterpart when we reserved and hired a local surgeon. So while the ‘leadership of the Democratic Party’ and their supporting interest group(s) have voiced their concerns, know that we have heard all, the reason(s) not to.”

Earlier this month, the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association SHTA fired off a number of questions at the government regarding this policy including where in the world a counterpart policy has proven to be effective and which businesses can afford to pay two employees for the work of one. SHTA also warned that they will oppose this policy until their questions are satisfactorily answered. “First and foremost, a significant number of prestigious international organizations have advised against this. Secondly, why continue trying to implement something all local business representatives have voiced against?  We must therefore request the answers to the following questions, prior to the counterpart policy being brought to the forefront again: What other worldwide jurisdiction has proven that a counterpart program is successful? Do we have data identifying who and how many will benefit from this policy, since our unemployment data is dated and unreliable? How many businesses can afford to pay two employees; a qualified full time individual doing the job and a fully paid apprentice counterpart? Is this really a measure that will reduce unemployment or promote business and attract investors?”

The SHTA made no qualms about its intention to “remain committed to opposing the implementation of the counterpart policy” and said it will support its members in the fight against having to employ such counterparts until the questions posed are satisfactorily answered.

One St. Maarten People’s Party leader Lenny Priest also threw his hat into the ring on the issue saying, “the government proposed counterpart policy sounds nice for public consumption but is unrealistic.” In an article also printed earlier this month, Priest opined that “all the necessary tools to ensure that locals are the greater part of the work force already exists, without the crippling financial burden the counterpart policy will place on businesses.” He stressed that businesses can’t afford the additional financial burden that this policy will put them under and added that in these financial times many businesses are struggling to meet their day to day costs plus pay their employees. He believes that forcing businesses to essentially pay two employees for the work of one will cripple these businesses, especially the smaller businesses and will ultimately prove detrimental to the economy.

However MP De Weever said yesterday that as minister he has witnessed too much exploitation of workers. “While the ministry tried to increase compliance to the labor laws through the Inspectorate and the Labor Affairs office the same “DP leadership” and interest group(s) have been yelling for flexibilization of our labor laws because they want to be able to hire and fire as they please. I will not allow this to happen. They have clearly deviated from the original principles of the founding fathers of the Democratic Party. Since we are in Parliament I challenge anyone to bring a draft initiative law or an amendment to our current laws that takes away the rights of any worker,” MP De Weever said.

He noted that “this issue affects all of us, our family, our friends and the workers of this island.” The Independent MP cited examples of his continued support for the local workers. “In December I made the call to bring our graduated and graduating students home to help build St. Maarten, I encouraged government, government owned companies and the private sector to attend Flinx Recruitment Expo Dutch Caribbean (FRED) in the Netherlands in June to recruit our interns and graduates. I believe in giving our people a fair chance and I believe in our people applying themselves to their jobs and careers, De Weever concluded.

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