The spirit of compromise seems to be in short supply these days. A pity really and also a bit baffling. The coronavirus does not discriminate. With few exceptions, every country, creed or color must accept that they/we are not safe from the virus. The only action that is safe requires us to stay apart; the so-called social distancing. At first, we had to “stay apart, together” to survive. This solidarity, at least from a health perspective was automatic. Economically, the situation is quite different.
“Lockdown” has caused financial “knockdown” for most in the private sector. While the COVID-19 might not discriminate, the same cannot be said for the consequences of fighting it. Some people who can’t work because of the lockdown are feeling the pinch of no, or less money coming in. The ones without income must have a hard time understanding why their experience of “we in this together” is different than that of, for example government workers (civil servants), whose financial survival is the direct responsibility of the government. Our civil servants have yet to fear what most of us in the private sector are experiencing: “How will my boss be able to afford my next paycheck if there is hardly any money coming in due to the lock-down?”
There is a need for over US $200 million to artificially keep the economy of our “half of the island” on life support for the next 6 months awaiting either an effective medication and/or vaccination for us to go on with life living with COVID-19. For some, or all, of this huge amount of money (and more if 6 months are not enough to invent medication to fight the virus), we turned to the only (reluctant) provider of financial support (fair or not): The Kingdom Government (read: Holland). They have made it known that, once more (like it or not), their financial support comes with conditions.
At this point, I invite everyone to read the opinion of one Mr. Armand Hessels on page 10 of the Antiliaans Dagblad of Saturday, May 23, 2020. Those that do not read Dutch will need Mr. Google to translate and replace “St. Maarten” where he refers to “Aruba”.
But back to Holland’s financial support: In the opinion of “Political The Hague”, everybody must give up something. For the politicians, it is 25 per cent of their compensation package (salaries and fringe benefits). The government-owned companies and subsidized entities must also cap their salaries and fringe benefit packages.
It really should not have taken the Dutch government to demand this. Like other Caribbean countries, our local politicians should have taken the initiative. But, they did not, and now we are here dealing with the most contentious part of this imposed solidarity: the demand for a 12.5 per cent across-the-board cut on civil servant salaries. Unions do not want to hear it, civil servants are upset, and future liquidity support for government (to amongst others, pay those same civil servants) depends on it!
We can argue all we want, but the clock is ticking, government agreed to the Dutch government’s terms and it is time to be practical and compromise. Solidarity means that we recognize the common interest. At this time, whether we like it or not, St. Maarten needs liquidity support. That support comes at a price. There is no PLAN B. As it stands, solidarity requires that those who can bear it the most, give up some salary for those who cannot.
In the private sector (PS) where the applicable labor laws have made all the PS employees the responsibility of the businesses they work for, the employees are nervously awaiting when they can go back to work and whether or not the business where they work will be able to get SSRP support, should business “suck”.
And let us not forget the multitude of self-employed businesspersons like our taxi drivers and bus operators, totally dependent on movement of people and the influx of tourists. Unlike the civil servants, they are not thinking about vacation pay, bonus, or legally set pay-scale increases. They just want some money, so they can put bread on their tables.
From personal experience I know that many civil servants are of goodwill and doing their jobs when and how they are supposed to. But this is not the time to be mad at Holland. Not now. Those of you, especially in the middle and higher scales, who are not part of the essential group, should consider giving up that 12.5 per cent in order to get paid at all and to allow the cleaner and other lower-scale government workers to keep getting the little they get.
And how about this: Instead of singing, shouting out on radio programs, clapping and honking horns to show our gratitude for those civil servants who face risks and dangers of COVID-19 on a daily basis, like our Police Force, VKS, EMS and other front-line health department workers (the ones that truly are out in the field risking their lives for all of us), why don’t we ask our Council of Ministers to identify these civil servants and on short notice propose to the Dutch providers of financial support that these civil servants should be excluded from the mandatory 12.5 per cent cut on salaries and benefits. That should be our collective “thank you” to the civil service front-line workers and our way of showing them some solidarity.
We are all in this together, right?
Michael J. Ferrier