Minister confirms overtime payment for Immigration amidst strike, staffing crisis

Minister confirms overtime payment for  Immigration amidst strike, staffing crisis

PHILIPSBURG--Minister of Finance Marinka Gumbs has confirmed that the overtime payment for airport immigration workers, initially due in April, was included in the May 2024 salary payment. This delay in payment was a result of information regarding overtime not being submitted timely to the payroll administrators, which impacted payroll processing in April.

While Gumbs acknowledges the workers' rights to defend their interests, she wished to have been informed of this matter beforehand to be able to address the problem, at least that which stems from overtime payment, so that as border control officers this matter could have been resolved or clarified without them striking.

In an effort to resolve the ongoing dispute over overtime payments, Gumbs on Saturday scheduled a meeting with the NAPB union for 9:30am Monday to get an understanding of the issues to be able to address them. Minister of Justice Lyndon Lewis will also be in attendance. Despite assurances that the overdue payment was included in this month’s payroll, immigration workers continued with a go-slow on Sunday following a mass strike on Saturday.

The delay in overtime payment originated with the failure to timely provide the Ministry of Finance payroll administration with the necessary overtime hours for each immigration officer. Once this information was received, the payments were processed for the May payroll.

Minister Gumbs emphasised her commitment to finding a resolution and addressing the workers' concerns promptly. The upcoming meeting with NAPB aims to facilitate a constructive dialogue and ensure that such delays do not occur in the future.

All unions attended a meeting with the Council of Ministers (CoM) on Wednesday, May 22, following an invitation for an introductory session at the Government Administration Building. Despite the government’s collapse on Monday, the CoM decided to proceed with the meeting to address the unions' concerns.

Gumbs confirmed on Sunday that the NAPB union had not raised issues regarding overtime payment for Immigration workers during the May 22 meeting. "I provided the NAPB representative with my email address, requesting to be informed of all the union’s concerns. However, I have not received any communication from NAPB to date and I am hoping to be informed soon,” Gumbs said.

The NAPB board issued a press release on Saturday highlighting severe understaffing and unfair labour conditions faced by border control employees. The union’s call for action was directed to Minister of Justice Lyndon Lewis.

“For far too long, members of the justice field have tirelessly worked overtime, striving to ensure that laws are upheld and safety is maintained at our airport. Despite their relentless efforts, they are met with empty promises and inadequate compensation,” the NAPB board said. “This situation is unacceptable and unsustainable. Our employees are overworked and understaffed, often forced to work extended hours to ensure the security and functionality of the island. Many of our dedicated workers have fallen ill due to excessive demands, further exacerbating the staffing crisis.”

The NAPB board is calling on the minister of justice to take immediate and decisive action: initiate new hiring classes to recruit candidates and alleviate the staffing shortage, ensuring that border control is adequately staffed to handle increasing demands; ensure fair compensation by guaranteeing that all employees are paid fairly and promptly for their overtime and regular hours, reflecting the critical nature of their work; and improve working conditions by implementing measures to ensure that all employees work in safe and supportive environments, preventing overwork and the resulting health issues.

The NAPB board acknowledged the presence of the minister of justice at the airport on Saturday. Minister Lewis, a former Immigration officer himself, personally visited the airport to assess the situation and lend a hand.

Efforts to mobilize additional officers from the mobile unit proved unsuccessful, leading the Minister to step in directly alongside his former colleagues on the front lines. Support was later bolstered by the Alpha team, whose members assisted effectively during the crisis.

Minister Lewis stated that the management team of Princess Juliana International Airport played a crucial role in managing passenger flows. “Special thanks is extended to PJIAE CEO Brian Mingo for his leadership during the ordeal and the Immigration officers that worked tirelessly to ensure a smooth operation,” Minister Lewis said.

The airport immigration workers’ strike could have significantly impacted the nation's economy, however, the effects of their action were mitigated through collaborative efforts, Minister Lewis said. “Discussions regarding the overtime disputes are scheduled with Minister of Finance, Marinka Gumbs, and relevant stakeholders on Monday. People who work deserve to get paid, and I am committed to ensuring that all justice workers continue to receive their well-deserved payment as I see it important to keep the moral, and ultimately important the safety and well-being of St. Maarten.”

The NAPB has confirmed its attendance of the meeting with the Minister of Finance and Minister of Justice on Monday, 9:30 am. Minister of Justice Lyndon Lewis will also be in attendance.

The Daily Herald

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