St. Maarten -Several social organizations that champion causes of the elderly have reacted to a proposal to increase pensions and the age of retirement. Following a seminar that the Public Health and Social Development Ministry in collaboration with the SZV and the General Pension Fund (APS) held two weeks ago, the St. Maarten Senior Citizens and Pensioners Association (SMSPA) has rejected the proposed pension increase.
The association which does a lot of rights awareness and advocacy work in the community sat in on a presentation APS made on pension reform during the seminar that was held at the Westin Dawn Beach Resort. However they were not impressed.
2300 guilders is what the SMSPA is demanding that the government pay out in pension. At the proposed 1000 guilders, they believe seniors would be barely able to survive on $3.00 a day.
“In the case of the seniors we know that more than 60 percent of them are only old age pensioners. It is just 866 guilders a month they will get. This thing of a 1000 guilders is a gimmick because most of the people will not get the 144 guilders extra a month to total the 1000 guilders. When you count it down, it’s not even 5 guilders a day. If you want to make a senior happy, don’t come with $3.00 a day because if I take two buses, already the $3.00 is gone,” first vice-president of the SMSPA drs. Raymond Jessurun said when Today contacted him.
Since the social protection floor in the Netherlands is set at 975 euros for 2012 anything below that represents poverty and would entitle a person to financial aid. It is for this reason that association has called for the pension increase of 2300 guilders which is equivalent to 1003.35 euros.
Jessurun said that seniors are at the forefront of the rights struggle because they have family members who will inherit unfavorable situations unless they stand up now.
The format of the seminar allowed attendees to submit questions on paper and then the panel selected the ones they wanted to respond to. The attendees were promised a digital response to the remaining questions that were not answered during the seminar.
“This is not the type of consultation that we expect from a government that respects the right to participate.”
When asked whether the association would be pursuing protest action on the streets, Jessurun said that, “We cannot go up front in those kinds of things unless with the other social organizations because we know that when we strike everything continues as normal.”
He said that many seniors also want to work to “make ends meet” but are denied jobs because of their age. When asked whether the association supports government’s plan to increase the retirement age up to 62, Jessurun said that people should not be discriminated based on their age if they have the ability to continue working, however the association does not support a formal increase in the pension age.
“In one of the stakeholders meeting, they told us if we want more than 1000 guilders that they have projected then they will have to go from 60 to 62 years. By increasing the pension age, they will no longer have to pay people out. And by saving that money, then they can pay for the ones that are in the system to get more. Saving money from out of the fund is not the thing. Taking more money out of the profits that are being made with our economy for social development is what is necessary,” the SMSPA believes.
He said that the association was surprised and disappointed they decisions are being taken for them.
“They told us that they are going to talk to us about our pensions but at that moment we saw that they came with insurance companies, employers and representatives of youngsters’ organizations to talk about how our pension would be like. Basically what they have come up with is a proposal that we will get 1000 guilders as the raise of the pension. It is not the 1000 euros that we have identified as being equal to every other part of the Kingdom.”
St. Maarten is not a state and the state party, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, should guarantee, by all means possible, the realization of equal rights and development throughout the Kingdom, the association noted.
“The arguments that they came with are so called constitutional arguments that we are an autonomous country and we have to look for our solutions ourselves. But based on human rights, there is also the constitutional argument in Article 43, sub 2 in the Kingdom Charter that if my human rights of good governance should be addressed, it is a Kingdom affair,” Jessurun stated.
The association said that it looks forward to a review of the pension reform with its active participation.
“We are not stakeholders; we are the owners of the pension fund and the national health insurance fund because it is our premium money. For years we have been depositing our money in there. It is because we work that the employer can also get money to put into the fund.”