The first paragraph of the contract that was given to each employee, with the specific employee’s name blocked out.
PHILIPSBURG--Whereas the contracts of the thirty public health officers assigned to handle applications at St. Maarten’s Electronic Health Authorization System (EHAS) stated that they are employees of the Government of St. Maarten, Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor VSA Omar Ottley said on Wednesday that these employees are in fact “consultants”.
Ottley told reporters on Wednesday at the start of the Council of Ministers press briefing to “get their facts straight.”
“When I hear reporters speak of persons not getting overtime, persons being misused, I think that you should get your facts in order,” Ottley said. “These persons work based on an hourly approach. Of course, when they were hired everyone expected – normally you expect to work 40 hours. But if they work 15 hours, their invoices that they submit to government – keyword: invoices – stated 15 hours. If they worked 5 hours, their invoices stated 5 hours.”
The Daily Herald has copies of invoices which employees received from the VSA Ministry stating that they worked the round number of 200 hours per month, equaling an average of 50 hours per week. While all invoices are monthly invoices, some show that employees put in more than 50 hours per week.
EHAS employees told the newspaper that they were expected to be available 24/7 and in fact worked more hours than their invoices show. “There is constant discussion about the discrepancy between the hours worked and the number of hours paid out. We were told that there is not enough money to pay employees overtime.”
The public health officers start each workday at 8:00am and often work until 11:00 pm, with a few breaks in between. They get instructions from the project managers, have tasks assigned to them and work according to schedule.
“When there is a hierarchy, a 40-hour workweek for a single employer and scheduled work, then you are employed,” said attorney Geert Hatzmann, who is preparing to take Ottley to Court on behalf of two EHAS employees who were dismissed on Saturday.
“If, like these employees, you have completed three consecutive short-term contracts, then you are permanently employed,” Hatzmann explained. “What Minister Ottley has done is both unethical and unlawful.”
Ottley maintained on Wednesday that EHAS employees are providing a service as consultants. “They are in charge of their own taxes, they are in charge of their own medical,” he said.
During the press briefing Ottley played audio recordings of EHAS employees from his phone, stating that everyone knew that the project would come to an end. “I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus,” Ottley said. “But my name is my name. My name is all I have. If you try to defame my character, I have to answer. I have to show that in no form or means I took advantage of anyone.”