Opinion: Old question, same answer

POSTED: 10/28/11 11:33 AM

Parliamentarian George Pantophlet has brought up an old question to which everybody knows the answer. At least, everybody could know the answer, but apparently, MP Pantophlet does not, or he has forgotten all about it. In Tuesday’s central committee meeting Pantophlet said that “by law employers have to bear the cost of employment permits,” and that employers are “forcing” their immigrant workers to pay for their work permit.
Well, well. The same issue came up four years ago, in the summer of 2007. Louie Laveist, then Commissioner of Labor, claimed that according to the law employers have to pay the work permit. The revised Island Resolution on Employment of Foreign Labor of 2008 states once more that “the employer must pay the Island Territory.” That is clear. Right?
Well, not really, because the same ordinance does not explicitly prohibit employers to claim these expenses from their employees. Already in 2007, this newspaper obtained legal advice about this situation.
In an editorial that appeared that summer in this newspaper we noted, “It is the duty of the Commissioner of Labor to see to it that the workforce is adequate to support our economy,” and that “work permit cost should be borne by government in the interest of our economy. Shortcomings by government should not be transplanted to employers or employees.”
This point of view is still valid today. Pantophlet described employers as the bad guys who are forcing immigrant employees to pay for their work permit.
But is this really so? A labor contract is an agreement between a company and an employee. When such a contract states that the cost of a work permit is for the account of the employee (as we are sure many contracts do), the prospective employee has of course two options: accept or decline. In other words: nobody is forcing anyone, because there is a mutual agreement before an immigrant worker becomes an immigrant employee.
It is of course true that the cost of these permits is insanely high. And it is also true that companies are not hiring foreign labor because they love this. They do this out of necessity, because the expertise they need is not available in the local labor reserve. And, as we wrote already in 2007, it is the government’s task to make sure that we have an adequate workforce that is able to support our economy.
Apparently there is something lacking in that department. Just yesterday we noticed a newspaper ad for a nail salon that promises to beat the prices of all its competitors. The nail technicians that work for this company are proudly displayed in the ad. They go by names like Thanh, John, Tracy, Michael, Tommy, Trinh, Candy and Le. What do these nail technicians have in common? Based on their pictures they are all from Asian descent.
That does not say anything about their legal status but we cannot help wondering: how did these people obtain a work permit in the first place? We have nothing against nail technicians, and we certainly have nothing against people of Asian descent. But the question about their presence in St. Maarten seems legitimate, given the fact that a lot of local girls seem to know all there is to know about nails. So maybe, as the ad recommends, somebody ought to check out these nail technicians.

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