Wifol calls for workers security during business changeovers

POSTED: 09/4/13 1:12 PM

St. Maarten AY- Wifol president Theophilus Thompson is registering concern over what he calls a “very serious problem within the labor market.” He believes that many businesses are now patterning themselves after the fiasco involving Pelican Resort which changed hands several times leaving employees in limbo.

“Since the Pelican Resort drama, where workers were sent home by the then general manager, we have realized a number of companies have been changing hands or the same owners of those companies which existed, opened or registered new companies without making sure that the rights of those employees who are still employed with them are secured.”

Thompson said that within the last few months, the union has realized that housekeeping employees working within the Sonesta Group of Companies have been the victims of such a change over.

“There was a change at both Maho and Great Bay and those employees were asked to sign new workers agreement. Needless to say those employees have a union representing them, but it’s about those workers actually knowing their rights. Even though management might say everything remains the same, never count on that. You should always report such matters to your organization. If you do not and go ahead and sign without your organization having full knowledge of that, then you are actually giving up your rights and that power of attorney that you initially gave to your workers organization you are taking it back and the responsibility for what you signed lies solely with you.”

Thompson said that current legislation allows this practice  but the time is long overdue for parliamentarians to  put laws into effect that protect workers when companies are changing over from one to another, especially when it’s the same investors.

Thompson gave an example of a lady who worked for six years in the Maho area and was on Monday told that her services are no longer needed.

“That comes because the unresolved matter of employees who were sent home and up to now the matter has not been finalized. Now a trend of other companies are doing the same without any big shakeup, a smooth transition is now taking place and employees rights are being taken away with these transactions.

Under the Decent Work Convention of the International Labor Organization, Thompson said that workers’ rights are guaranteed.

 

Social dialogue should be the order of the day, even though all parties are not willing to have respectful dialogue, the union leader said, adding that social partners lack maturity and this is a direct provocation of unions.

In the case of  Maho, he explained that “the problem is that those workers have worked for years and the guarantee that those benefits that they have acquired over the years have not been cemented in the new working agreement that they asked those workers to sign.”

Meanwhile, over Great Bay Sonesta Resort, Thompson said that Wifol plans to sign a new collective labour agreement on behalf of approximately 90 workers once the resort’s director returns to the island.

“The concern is government issuing new business licenses, accepting the fact that an old company never filed for bankruptcy but just closed its door. Then the same people establish a new company and government issues a new business license to the same people to continue operating with the workers from the former company.”

He said that the situation is even worse for workers who don’t have representation, citing several stores on Front Street for violation of workers’ rights and taking advantage of St. Maarten’s system.

“Most of these companies have a 10 year life span and are exempted from certain levies and taxes and then they change over. During the transition period workers are left in limbo regarding their years of service and benefits.”

Government issued working documents for employees from Sandals Resorts in Jamaica to work at the Great Bay Sonesta, a direct threat to existing workers, Thompson contends.

“Government is not doing things and acting in ways that ignores the reality of social dialogue and bi-partisan.  These actions that they have taken are affecting  the workers  and unless they want us to resort back to the 20s and 30s when workers had to take things into their hands violently, they have to understand that unionism today, based on international treaties and conventions we are willing to discuss matters on a tripartite or bipartite setting. But they cannot continue to do these things by themselves which affect workers and will affect eventually the social life of individuals,” the trade unionist said.

 

 

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