Leonard threatens with legal actions against St. Maarten government

POSTED: 06/25/13 12:36 PM

Emancipation devalued in worker’s struggle

St. Maarten – Trade unionist Derie Leonard has threatened to take the government to court if it fails to pay out the 2012 cost of living adjustment soon. Leonard heads the Windward Islands Civil Servants Union/Private Sector Union (WICSU/PSU).

Yesterday she remarked that she will not allow her members to be “intimidated into silence” by government over the Cola payment.

“It is not so that because I am silent means I am not working behind the scenes. However I would like to indicate to the Prime Minister to please take civil servants seriously. I will not allow government to intimidate my members because this is something they are entitled to. We have indicated in the GOA body that we are willing to sit down and start negotiate on the best level so that we all can come out favorable for both parties. However it seems like they are taking the civil servants for granted or a ride. If it takes that I have to take government to court I will do that but I will not sit back and allow the government to just shove something down the throats of civil servants,” the union leader said.

Leonard was asked to qualify her statements of intimidation of workers at the hands of government officials. She told Today  that in 2010 some of the workers were intimidated by a particular minister that if they don’t return to work they would be fired.

“This was intimidation but the civil servants also have their families to feed so they went back to work.”

Adamant that in 2013 the outcome will not be the same, Leonard says that she is prepared to go to the extreme to represent her membership.

“My membership has placed their trust in me and when one has placed their trust in you, you have to go to the extreme for them because civil servants have families that are depending on them. There comes a point in time when we have to indicate to government that they have to live up to their obligations because government is the people. We elected the government to work on our behalf and if we allow them to continue doing this, then it will be very sad for St. Maarten.”

Leonard was expected to meet with the president of the Windward Islands Teachers Union, Claire Elshot, yesterday, for the two to chart a course forward. She indicated that after discussions were completed with her colleagues, she will be sending a lawyer’s letter to the government.

As St. Maarten prepares to commemorate the 150th anniversary of African Emancipation, Leonard said that the observance is a hypocritical one considering the state of industrial relations currently.

“We are talking about Emancipation Day and being free from slavery. This is a form of slavery; intimidating people for something that is due to them. I would like to indicate to the prime minister along with her minister of finance to come up with a prompt and speedy decision to please pay out the civil servants what is due to them. If we will have government just shoving things down our throat then we should not celebrate Emancipation Day,” she stated.

In March of this year, former Minister of Finance Roland Tuitt said that a Holland-based group, CAOP, would have visited the island in April, primarily for the purpose of government researching and reporting on the Cola here and alternatives to it. Based on discussions the group agreed to visit St. Maarten for three days and conduct assessments and consultations before preparing a formal report on the feasibility of the Cola. During its visit, CAOP should have also met with various union representatives, employees of the Ministry of General Affairs and other stakeholders. The visit would have cost the government 20 thousands Euros. It is unclear whether the group actually came to the island and Leonard has said that she is still to meet with any group on alternatives to the Cola.

“No they have not met with WICSU/PSU, I don’t know if they have met with the other unions. It was indicated within the media that this body was coming and they were going to send an invitation to all unions so that we can all sit at the table and find an applicable solution. This was not done.”

She said that she was also surprised to learn, via the media, that the previous government had placed the Cola payout on the 2013 Budget but at a 50 percent reduction. According to Leonard, before it reached the public domain, this was never discussed in the Organized Consultative Body (GOA).

“For me that is total disrespect towards the civil servants because we sat with the prime minister in GOA and it was decided that she was going to come back with a proposal for us. But then we heard it in the media that the former Minister Roland Tuitt said that the cost of living adjustment is costing government too much of money to pay for that. However that is a poor excuse for me.
The prime minister then indicated in the public that up to 50 percent they can pay and in the long term they did not come back to the union around the table and negotiate with us. That is disrespectful. The moment you sent it in the budget to be approved by parliament you already took your decision and this is how you are going to do it; it must go down the throats of civil servants? WICSU/PSU will not accept this at any cost.”

The union leader fears that the pensions of workers will be affected if the government is allowed to continue along this trajectory.
“If we accept that lump sum it will have an effect on the pension of the civil servants because when you have an index in your salary, your salary reflects your pension. We cannot continue in this way, we are a young country and we have changed three governments. I will not judge this new Minister of Finance yet but we need to see results,” she concluded.

The government continues to maintain that the Cola system can no longer be maintained in a developing economy like St. Maarten’s.

 

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