An adjourned session of Parliament’s Committee for General Affairs with the Chamber of Labour Unions and the Committee of Civil Servant Unions (CCSU) is tentatively scheduled to continue this Wednesday. The meeting’s first part last week was followed by a public discussion between the unions and Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs, giving differing opinions on reasons for their lack of recent consultations on coronavirus-related austerity measures (see Thursday and Friday/Saturday editions).
The real question is: what now? CCSU filed a complaint with the Ombudsman against the prime minister and Finance Minister Ardwell Irion that they consider an incorrect action for a governmental entity. A hearing was supposed to take place on Friday, October 2, but there has been no further word on this.
Parties need to somehow come together, because the country is facing arguably its deepest socioeconomic crisis in modern times, even worse than after several major hurricane-hits and the impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US on international travel. Of course, it is frustrating for public administration personnel to see benefits such as vacation pay reduced perhaps in contravention of earlier agreements and existing procedures, but these are exceptional and unprecedented circumstances.
One must also not forget that many private sector workers were forced to take pay cuts of 20 per cent so their companies could quality for payroll support to survive – if staff members had not done so already out of necessity. Others have been left jobless and now depend on income and unemployment support.
All this much-needed assistance must obviously be paid for. Up until now that was done with soft liquidity loans from the Netherlands, but there is no agreement on conditions for such continued funding.
The latter in no way means St. Maarten is off the hook and can now afford to relax cost-saving steps required by The Hague. On the contrary, any alternative financing obtained is bound to come at a higher price and make belt-tightening all the more inescapable.
One particularly undesirable scenario is to stop helping businesses and allow them to fold, which will in turn lead to mass layoffs, progressively less tax income and government ultimately being unable to pay its personnel. That is a vicious cycle nobody wants to see.