PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) voiced its concerns to the International Labour Standards Department NORMES on the lack of social dialogue within the tripartite in St. Maarten.
In May SHTA, as a representative of employers in St. Maarten, in a letter brought to the attention of NORMES, a number of challenges were faced relating to the freedom of association and tripartite consultations.
SHTA further requested NORMES’ legal opinion with regard to the International Labour Organization (ILO) for St. Maarten, the freedom of association principles, and comparative international law.
In the letter SHTA laid out its concerns regarding the country’s current situation. It stated that regardless of St Maarten being a signatory to ILO convention 144, tripartite social dialogue in St Maarten does not meet the standards envisioned by the treaty. SHTA further requested that the ILO provide its opinion whether these concerns are valid.
It was noted that the tripartite committee for labour, established under the ILO conventions, has been inactive and unappointed since summer 2019. Nominations have been requested from to all parties, but yet no confirmation or meetings have taken place since February 7, 2019.
In response, NORMES stated that the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) in a 2018 direct request to St. Maarten regarding the application of the Tripartite Consultation Convention, noted, “The fundamental obligation under the Convention is to ensure effective tripartite consultations on all of the matters concerning the activities of the ILO related to international labour standards set out in Article 5 (1)”.
SHTA further pointed out recent changes made to the labour law, decided unilaterally by then-Minister of Labour Pamela Gordon-Carty, without tripartite consultation on the changes.
According to NORMES, Article 2 of the convention requires members to operate procedures that ensure the effective consultations on the matters set out in Article 5 (1). It stated that while the required consultations do not necessarily have to take place through meetings, Article 5 (2) of the convention requires that the government ensure that consultations on the matters are held “at appropriate intervals fixed by agreement, but at least once a year.”
SHTA also noted that the employers representatives have three seats on the Social Economic Council (SER). SHTA occupies one seat, but the remaining two seats for employers’ representatives are occupied by the government-appointed Chamber of Commerce and Industry (COCI), adding that COCI in St. Maarten is not independent from the government and does not represent employers.
According to SHTA, COCI is an administrative body for company registrations and obligatory in nature, as all companies need to register at COCI. In addition, board membership in COCI is discriminatory as it requests a Kingdom passport for board membership (contrary to those of employers, SER or tripartite council).
SHTA noted that for these reasons, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in St. Maarten cannot be recognised as an employer representative when held to international standards of employer organisations.
SHTA also noted that currently the SER does not have a board, as the previous term has ended and that no new appointments will be made until after COCI institutes an umbrella organisation for employer representatives.
COCI announced on Friday, September 7, that it was in the final phase of establishing the Soualiga Employer Association (SEA) as part of the process of nominating various representatives to SER.
NORMES confirmed that the imposition by the authorities of the creation of an umbrella organisation of employers by an administrative body that does not represent the free choice of employers would be contrary to the principles of freedom of association recognised in the ILO Constitution, as well as in the Freedom of Association and the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87), among other ILO instruments.
NORMES said that if the Chamber of Commerce is instituting an umbrella organisation for employer representatives whereby it is taking overall responsibility for employer representation on the SER, such action would be contrary to the freedom of association rights of freely-formed employers’ organisations recognised in Convention No.
SHTA said that presently there are no councils or committees active where employers’ representatives have a structural seat at the table and that neither unions nor employers have been involved in such.
In accordance with Article 22 of the Constitution of the International Labour Organization, a report from the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour VSA published in 2011 said the recognised employers’ organisations are COCI, SHTA, St. Maarten Timeshare Association (SMTA) and St. Maarten Marine Trade Association (SMMTA).
The workers’ organisations recognised in this report are Windward Islands Chamber of Labour Unions (WICLU) and United Federation of the Windward Antilles (UFA).
NORMES further advised SHTA to refer to the importance the Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) has placed on promoting dialogue and consultation with employers’ and workers’ organisations on matters affecting their interests and those of their members.
NORMES further disclosed that if SHTA wished to bring concerns relating to the application of any of these provisions to the attention of the ILO CEACR, it may transmit these to the office in the form of observations made pursuant to Article 23 of the ILO Constitution.