photo: Marit Severijnse

KRALENDIJK – “We are always grateful for an increase in the minimum wage, but this one will mean nothing because everything in Bonaire has gotten more expensive”, says MPB leader Elvis Tjin Asjoe.

The minimum wage and social benefits on the BES islands increased with 10 percent on the 1st of January. “But in the meantime the price of electricity has risen by 28 percent, that of gas by 30 percent, and the rent and food prices have also gone up.

In September of 2021 a motion was adopted by the representatives of the BES islands in which they called on the new Dutch government to pin down the social minimum as soon as possible. “We wanted to raise the minimum wage with 400 dollars in one go so that it would match the social minimum wage”, says Tjin Asjoe. But unfortunately that didn’t happen.

“Instead of this Parliament decided to follow the advice of the Centraal Dialoog, which stated that the minimum wage should be increased in 4 increments of 100 dollars over a period of 4 years.” The Centraal Dialoog is a local forum for employers, unions, and local governments.

No safety net for the unemployed
Additionally the increase in the benefits will not have a major effect according to Tjin Asjoe. “Don’t forget that the social security is much higher in the Netherlands than it is here. Bonaire also doesn’t have an unemployment benefits scheme, even though this was a part of the ‘Akkoord van Kralendijk’ which the Centraal Dialoog published. So there’s no safety net.”

The minimum wage on Bonaire currently stands at 1045 dollars for a 40 hour workweek. “The costs of living for a one person household is about one and a half times as high. And for a two person household about twice the minimum wage”, says Wietze Koopman, chair of the consumer desk Unkobon.

At the request of the government of Bonaire, Nibud calculated back in 2014 that a single woman should earn at least 1472 dollars to survive.

‘Poverty will continue to exist on the islands’
According to Koopman a lot of political pressure was exerted to determine the social minimum on the basis of the costs of living. “In 2018 the Dutch policy research institute Regioplan conducted another research into the costs of living. However after the research was completed an initial 25 percent was deducted from it followed up by an additional 10 percent deduction to establish a benchmark. At this rate poverty will continue to exist on the islands”, says Koopman.

At this point the social minimum on Saba is 1246 dollars and on Statia it’s 1265 dollars.
‘The previous Dutch government has not done enough to combat poverty on the BES islands’
“What truly worries me is that we are not able to tackle the social minimum. Not some point on the horizon, but the reality of the situation, because you can’t postpone poverty”, says Tjin Asjoe. “The previous Dutch government took some steps but they weren’t enough if we’re talking about poverty. I would say; new government, new chances. So we’ll talk to the MP’s and ministers, just like we’ve been doing for the past ten years.”

Consumer desk Unkobon believes that Bonaire needs more publicity regarding this issue in the Netherlands. “Half of the population receives an income which is beneath the poverty line and that is unacceptable in the Netherlands.”

Court case

In reaction to the increase, Unkobon has sent a letter to the Parliamentary commission for Kingdom Relations and the formateur. “With an extensive narrative about the costs of living and the benchmark.” They are also looking into starting up a court case.