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St. Maarten union members will not accept 50 percent Cost of Living Adjustment


~ Claire Elschot firmly against Dutch consultant ~

PHILIPSBURG–Members of the Windward Islands Civil Servants Union/Private Sector Union (WICSU/PSU) will not accept fifty per cent of their Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) payment as had been included in the 2013 budget.

The workers will only settle for full payment for 2011 and 2012 says WICSU/PSU President Dearie Leonard.

Leonard and Windward Islands Teachers Union (WITU) President Claire Elshot on Tuesday stood firm in their demands for their members to be paid what is due and nothing less. “If we have to take action to show government that we are the government; we elected them and put them there and they have to respect us, then we will,” Leonard told reporters at the Windward Islands Chamber of Labour Union (WICLU) weekly press conference. Both unions will hold separate meetings with their members today, Wednesday on COLA (see related story).

Elshot suggested several ways in which government can conserve on money to pay workers. She said government was paying “double rent” in costs for the Government Administration Building which it currently occupies and is also paying exorbitant costs for the new Government Administration Building that is sitting empty on Pond Island. She said solving the issue surrounding the new government building would save money to pay workers.

She said too that government can save on exorbitant costs by using local consultants rather than paying a Dutch consultant to give advice on something for St. Maarten when they don’t even reside here.

The WITU President said it was impossible that St. Maarten’s economy grew last year and government had no money to pay. She said the growth of the economy had to trickle down to workers with their COLA payment. “Government has to make sure that teachers and civil servants share in that growth,” she contended.

Elshot was firm that the 4.6 per cent COLA for 2011 should be indexed to workers’ salaries as this would benefit workers in several areas. As a result of indexation the basic salary, social premiums and pension of workers would go up. The result would be that workers would take home more money and get a bigger pension when they reach the age of retirement. This would not be the case if workers receive the payment in a lump sum, said Elshot.

She denounced what she called the unilateral decision of former Finance Minister Roland Tuitt to include only 50 per cent of the payment in the 2013 budget without consulting the unions. She said too that there is no indication on when the remaining 50 per cent would be paid.

Elshot is also firmly against a Dutch consultant giving government advice on the future sustainability of the COLA. She said there are sufficient consultants in St. Maarten and among the various unions, who can sit and come up with a feasible proposal on the future of COLA.

“We don’t need a Dutch consultant to tell us how to proceed with the COLA payment,” Elshot told reporters. “I think that the unions are savvy enough to sit and come up with solutions.”

Leonard said Tuitt had “insulted” workers when he said at his press conference last week that ministers and Members of Parliament were professionals and deserved their high salaries. When Elshot queried about the requirements to become a minister and an MP, Leonard said while there are requirements and diplomas needed to become a police officer, a teachers and an immigration officer etc., it is clear there are no requirements to become a minister or an MP.

Leonard said that contrary to what ministers were saying, government does have money to pay the COLA. “I know there is money there. They still have the idea for the Justice Park,” Leonard said, noting that the money for this project can be used to pay COLA.

She chided Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams for always communicating to the union via the media. She said Wescot-Williams has not responded to communication from the union about the COLA, but responded via the press. “The Prime Minister is trying to fool the civil servants,” she said.

Elshot said government should go ahead and make laws to justify COLA payment if this is not in place, just like efforts were made to secure the salaries of ministers and MPs via law.

Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

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