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St. Maarten parliament requests that minister De Weever carries out study 'to determine level of living wage'

WEDNESDAY, 04 DECEMBER 2013

PHILIPSBURG–Parliament unanimously passed a motion Tuesday evening requesting that Labour Minister Cornelius de Weever “carry out a survey to determine the level of a living wage” for the country and report back to Parliament in sixty days. The motion calls for the study results to be used in drafting legislation in support of a living wage.

The motion was drafted by the National Alliance (NA) Members of Parliament (MPs) and independent MP Frans Richardson, and received cross-party support. Minister de Weever was present for the meeting.

Independent MP Frans Richardson presented the motion. He said it had received “overwhelming support” and this was “a shocker.”

Twelve MPs were present for the meeting.

A living wage is deemed the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet needs considered basic. The study requested in the motion should “determine the minimum income necessary to meet the basic necessities of life such as food, housing, education, clothing, utilities, health care and recreation.” The study should detail a living wage for a single person and for a family of two or more.

According to the motion, Parliament believes the workers of the country “deserve living wages” and many social ills, such as substandard housing, can be alleviated by a living wage. A living wage also would make “a substantial contribution” to government’s poverty alleviation.

The motion states that it is of “utmost importance” to determine what the living wage means for the country so it can be related to minimum wage.

MP Frans Richardson, prior to presenting the motion, quoted several articles and studies from abroad that support the idea of a living wage not being harmful for the economy. He said the time for discussion on making adjustments to the minimum wage [is now – Ed.] He said people were crying out daily for help because the basic wage is not enough.

He challenged the Social Economic Council SER to work on more worthwhile studies like addressing the wage level instead of asking questions about sand in Great Salt Pond.

MP George Pantophlet (NA) said a lot of businesses were against any increase in the minimum wage and were quick to say it would lead to higher cost of doing business and even layoffs. He completely supported the need for a living wage to be determined for the country.

Independent MP Patrick Illidge said government needed to look into why prices for commodities in the country are high, in spite of the country’s duty-free status. He again called on utilities’ cost to be decreased as another way of reducing the burden on residents. As for jobs, he said businesses should be told they should hire St. Maarteners and not import people from abroad.

MP Louie Laveist (NA) said that when MPs mentioned the minimum wage they “get lashed down” by the media and business community. He also decried “one family controlling everything” in the country and the fact that “no one cried out” when the container fees were increased to fund the Simpson Bay causeway.

He said the people continued to elect the same people. “You continue to put them in office. Elect the right people and the right party – I believe that is the National Alliance – I guarantee you will see fuel prices go down, cargo fees go down, food prices go down and there will be increase for underwear.”

MP Dr. Lloyd Richardson (NA) said the minimum wage should not be lower than the living wage. He said any wage increase must come together with proper price control to prevent people losing the purchasing power they would receive. An increase also “should not deplete the competitiveness” of the country.

MP Hyacinth Richardson (NA) also said it was time to discuss a minimum wage increase and businesses needed to know that this is necessary. He voiced concerns about Dutch nationals not finding work because businesses preferred to hire undocumented workers for lesser wages.

He also called for people to have a chance to buy shares in utilities company GEBE when it is completely transferred to St. Maarten to help bring back the middle class. “We lost the middle class.”

MP Laville, who chaired the meeting as vice-president of Parliament, deviated from the Rules of Order with the support of other MPs and shared his view with the minister about the minimum wage. He also reiterated his call made in the past for no new work permits to be issued to foreigners. “We must start to curtail the influx of people into St. Maarten or we are going to crash. We can’t continue to have everyone coming in to St. Maarten,” he said.

Laville said that although he had not been born here and was of foreign parents, he and his family had “benefited” from St. Maarten. Now, however, was the time for “tough decisions” to be made, because the country cannot sustain more people, he said.

Signatories were NA MPs William Marlin, George Pantophlet, Dr. Lloyd Richardson, Hyacinth Richardson and Louie Laveist; independent MPs Frans Richardson, Romain Laville and Patrick Illidge; United People’s (UP) party MPs Theo Heyliger, Jules James and Johan Leonard; and Democratic Party (DP) MP Roy Marlin.

Absent with notice from Tuesday’s meeting were MPs Leroy de Weever (DP), Gracita Arrindell (UP) and Sylvia Meyers-Olivacce (UP).

The meeting almost did not continue after an hour adjournment to allow Minister de Weever to prepare answers to the questions posed, because the required eight MPs were not present. Once the required number was achieved the meeting continued. Not present for the second half of the meeting were MPs Heyliger, Roy Marlin, Leonard and James.

Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

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