Opinion: Labor market diagnosis

POSTED: 06/13/11 12:56 PM

The national ordinance short term labor contracts, a proposal by the National Alliance faction, seems designed to tackle undesirable situations in the labor market. In just two pages, the draft suggests a ban on temporary labor contracts unless there is permission from the Minister of Labor Affairs. It also suggests that existing temp labor contracts that have been extended more than three times with intervals of more than three months become permanent contracts overnight as soon as the legislation goes into effect.

We’re all for fighting abuse of employees, but, like doctors diagnose their patients before they sentence them to some form of fatal chemotherapy, we think that law makers ought to examine the patient called labor market thoroughly before prescribing a narrowly focused solution.

Remarkably though, there is a piece of legislation waiting to be dealt with that covers labor market issues in a much broader sense. It is the National Ordinance Labor Contract, an elaborate piece of work designed to establish title 10 of Book 7 of the Civil Code.

In the run-up to the transition to country status, the Parliament of the Netherlands Antilles kept itself busy with many things, but not with this ordinance. It is a different piece of work from the National Alliance draft ordinance; it runs 35 pages and comes with explanatory notes covering another 47 pages.

Why this draft was never passed, or why it was never even brought to the attention of the tripartite committee (consisting of representatives from the government, the unions and the private sector) is one of those mysteries that will likely never be solved.

But this does not take away the fact that this draft ordinance exists, and it would be worth looking at before St. Maarten goes off on a tangent with an initiative-law that covers just one aspect of the complex labor market issue.

One of the aspects certainly worth looking at dealt with manpower agencies. Employees could be like forever employed by a manpower agency, be put to work at the same employer, and yet never qualify for a permanent contract. Worse: even long time manpower agency-employees could be out of a job from one day to the next

By using manpower staff to fill positions, employers have an eminent opportunity to dodge labor contract legislation. We have been made to understand that this construction is popular in some sectors of the hospitality industry.

While it is certain that this is the number one sector that has to deal with seasonal fluctuations, we do not think that keeping even core staff via manpower constructions on a short leash is an example of being a good employer.

The relationship between employers and employees is a delicate one, but it comes always down to this: it takes two to tango. Unwilling employers with willing employees and willing employers with unwilling employees are both recipes for disaster.

Regulating the dos and don’ts in legislation may sound like a solution, but if there is one unwilling party in the mix, laws will not solve anything.

We like the opinion of labor legislation specialist van Sambeek who said yesterday in this newspaper that legislation hardly ever solves anything. Solutions have to be market driven to make them effective. This means that employers and employees have to create win-win situations, instead of engaging in rearguard action. That will always end with lose-win, win-lose, or even lose-lose situations.

The best thing to do right now seems to be setting up a thorough survey of the local labor market. Once the raw data of that survey are available, the building blocks are in place for creating an effective and balanced solution.

Right now, our main concern about the draft ordinance short labor contracts is that it is not balanced at all. It seems to contain everything for the employees and nothing for the employers. That will, in our opinion, never work.

At the same time, at the risk of repeating ourselves, we’d like to point out that the initiative law has had already one very positive effect: all interested parties are looking with refreshed energy levels at the labor market and at all the challenges it poses. With suddenly so much brainpower at work, sooner or later something good and useful must result from it.


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