PHILIPSBURG – The unified unions on Sint Maarten discussed the government’s proposals on Friday and the members voted on a motion that would result in the 50 percent vacation cut as originally planned and the full allowance in 2022 that includes 25 percent from that period until 2025.

Untill Friday civil servants were left wondering where their future is headed as the government and trade unions continue deliberations on the way forward with the upcoming austerity measures. The unions felt left out of decisions impacting their members and the government said there seems to be a lack of communication.

‘Middle income people will become the new poor’
“The Netherlands need to be aware that civil servants are not pawns in the game of upmanship,” says Lavonne, a high school teacher. “I lost my apartment in hurricane Irma and I’m still in recovery,” she adds. Other educators also speak up about the difficulty of living on their salary and experiencing dire working conditions.

Nathalie Peterson, an educator for 22 years and a mother of three, details her disagreement with the cuts. She has one daughter in college and is currently raising two teenagers and an infant as a single mother. The vacation allowance she receives help to cover her children’s education expenses and school supplies for the semester. Peterson says that teachers have endured much and she fears that “the middle income people will become the new poor and the minimum wage income even poorer.”

A report by Ralph Cantave

According to the counter proposal the unions sent the government, their points include a lowering of the cost of basic needs such as food and utilities by 12.5 percent, a creation of a poverty line study and implementation of an economic stimulus plan among other recommendations.

“The Dutch are our only avenue to loan funds. We didn’t have a choice but to accept these conditions”
– St. Maarten Prime minister Silveria Jacobs

Prime minister Silveria Jacobs says that the government’s position is reasonable and stressed the necessity for the measures in order for the second payment of funds to be made, a total of 53 million Antillean Guilders (estimated of 19 million dollar, red.).  Jacobs provided further clarity in a live video with minister Doran and Irion, reiterating to workers that their salaries will not receive cuts but the areas affected will be the vacation pay.

Additional cuts for travels, overtime and uniforms are forthcoming. “The Dutch are our only avenue to loan funds at the moment. We didn’t have a choice but to accept these conditions” Jacobs also stated. The ministers emphasized the need for civil servants to stand in unity with the private sector workers who are depending on the aid from the SSRP.

Unions: ‘Government failed’
In their meeting earlier this week several representatives stated that their members cannot take any cuts because they’re “already bleeding.” General Secretary of the WICSU PSU Union Riegnald ‘Bakari’ Arrindell says “government as an employer should be aware of the grievances of the employees.”

He added that the government has failed to implement proper indexation, cost of living adjustments and placing workers in their correct salary scales. “Quantify and add a value or a price tag to all the money that they [government] owe us. Consider that as the contribution of workers in the public sector.” Arrindell concluded.

The unions mention that “a number of discussions and negotiations will continue” as the unions further seek to protect the rights of their members.