Opinion: Conflict-oriented

POSTED: 06/15/11 1:31 PM

The debate is up and running, but the opinions we have read so far coming from union leaders seem to be rather conflict-oriented.

From the United Federation of the Windward Islands, Willy Haize’s Ufa, nothing else was to be expected of course. Haize repeats his drone about categorizing workers based on skill levels. In

August of 2009, this union launched this idea to create ordinary, junior and senior skill levels. At the same time Ufa wanted an almost 45 percent increase in the minimum wage.

Haize also thought at the time that short term labor contracts ought to be limited to seasonal workers. Now his union wants the government to abolish short term labor contracts altogether.

Remarkably, Haize also opted to attack civil law attorney Wim van Sambeek by taking out of context his remark that it has not been established that abuse is taking place. Haize fails to realize that this does not mean that the attorney denies that abuse is taking place. He said that it has not been established, and like Clarence Richardson see our front page story) he recommends a survey to establish the depth of the problem.

Haize apparently does not understand this, or he does not want such a survey to take place. Ah, wait; there is also a personal beef: Van Sambeek is obstructing the mediation at the Westin. This means, in all likelihood, that the Ufa has made demands in these negotiations that the Westin is not prepared to agree with.

Of all the unions that are active in St. Maarten, we heard that Ufa is the one with the highest number of deadlocked collective labor agreement negotiations. The reason for this seems to be that Haize is unwilling to negotiate. He makes demands and when they are not met the negotiations are “dead-locked.”

Haize said in a media report yesterday that Van Sambeek “does not know the law in Holland and not in the Antilles.” We don’t feel the need to defend Van Sambeek, because he is perfectly able to fend for himself, but we’d like to point out that this is exactly the level of ridiculousness that makes negotiating with characters like Haize a living nightmare.

Apart from criticizing an attorney with a more than decent knowledge of labor legislation and demanding that the Parliament pass the initiative law on short term labor contracts Haize offered not a single constructive idea to improve the draft law.

Theophilus Thompson, the president of the St. Maarten Chamber of Labor unions, did not help the debate forward either, because he also focused on the remark that the abuse has not been established. Thompson said, without offering any proof, in a media report that the abuse is rampant and that there is “more than enough proof.”

Thompson even went on to deny that there is a high and a low tourist season in St. Maarten, claiming that the island has enjoyed between 75 and 85 percent occupancy over the past quarter century.

The tone of voice used by the union leaders indicates that the public debate will in all likelihood become a trench war – exactly what we do not need.

Instead of blasting others, and making unrealistic demands and assumptions, union leaders ought to open their eyes and look at the facts. So far, those facts are not available for the short term labor contract debate. Let’s consider that fact numero uno.

To overcome that little hurdle, the Ministry for Public health, social development and Labor ought to organize a survey as recommended by Clarence Richardson. When that survey is complete, we will know what we are really talking about.

So far, nobody has said that no abuse is taking place. The fact that there is a draft initiative law on the table indicates that something is going on. We need to pinpoint that something. Once that is done, we have to toss around ideas for the best possible solution.

That solution needs to be balanced – another thing that especially Willy Haize fails to understand. A solution that is so harsh on companies that they will go belly up is not exactly a positive outcome for the people who had a job there. A solution whereby St. Maarten makes the Guinness Book of Records as the top slave driver in the world does not cut it either.

There is a middle ground acceptable for all players in the economy. The task at hand is to identify that middle ground and to lay down rules for future behavior. The unions have a critical role to play in this process, but at the moment they seem unfit for it due to their one-dimensional approach. Until that changes, employees are mainly left to their own devices.

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