On Wednesday, May 13th, the Council of Ministers met with the unions for a second time, to discuss the proposed cost-cutting measures for the government. Some of these suggestions directly influence civil servants, thus deeming it necessary to discuss these measures with the spokespersons of the Committee of Civil Servants Unions (CCSU). This was the second meeting held with the unions to discuss cost-cutting measures. During the first meeting, the government attempted to bring across to the unions the serious situation its facing in being able to support those negatively impacted by COVID-19 due to a lack of liquidity and made the following verbal proposal on Thursday, May 7, 2020.
· cut its own salary by another 5% which is a total cut of 20%
· cut 10% off salaries over NAƒ 8,000
· cut vacation pay 2020 off salaries over NAƒ 4000
Also included in the proposal is the freezing or postponement of bonuses. The proposal and the minutes of the meeting was sent subsequently to the unions on Friday, May 8, 2020, for feedback. The unions did not submit a counter proposal, however, reiterated in the meeting that they and their membership were against the cost-cutting measures by the government affecting civil servants. This proposal was also forwarded to Parliament on Wednesday evening.
None of the proposed cost-cutting measures would apply to anyone making under NAƒ 4.000, -, which the Minister of Finance stressed in his opening remarks during the press briefing, earlier on Wednesday. These cuts have been made due to additional costs being added to the budget, including the need to support the income of so many citizens who have been without work through the St. Maarten Stimulus & Relief Plan (SSRP).
During the meeting held on Wednesday, May 13th, a more complete proposal was presented to the unions including the other cuts not affecting civil servants that the government is proposing. “While it was never the government’s intention to cut civil servants’ salaries, after assessing the economic fallout of zero tourism since March and the need for liquidity support to be able to meet government expenditures including subsidies, salaries, and other operational expenditures, a decision was taken to cut an already lean budget. This will allow for more money to be spent on things such as recovery, strengthen public health and support,” stated Prime Minister Jacobs. The second proposal included:
· deferring bonuses to 2021
· cutting uniform budgets,
· reducing vacation pay by 50%
· Reducing gross salaries of over NAf 8000 with 10% until the end of 2020
Though civil servants’ representatives should fight for the rights of the persons that they represent as it is mandated by law, the reality of the situation must be taken seriously. The government is therefore asking civil servants to bear with them as this will be a temporary measure until the island is better positioned to sustain itself again. “If we, the people of this island, are not willing to sacrifice to help our most vulnerable, how can we expect others to do so?” stated Minister Irion. Ten-thousand employees on St. Maarten are expected to be without an income or reduced income, and the government is expected to supplement or at least provide a basic income for said persons via the St. Maarten Stimulus Recovery & Plan.
Minister Irion stated, “I understand their concerns and I can say that this government came in and addressed a few key things immediately; one being the payment of police officers, an issue that was not tackled for at least close to 10 years. I can also say that this government and in particular, myself as Minister of Finance will continue to tackle the concerns of the unions. I would like to clarify a few things that were placed in the media and on social media. In our meeting, we discussed those who make NAƒ. 4000, not touched, NAƒ. 4000 and up, vacation pay NAƒ. 8000 and up 10%. Vacation pay is not a contribution of civil servants but actually an expense of Government as we pay this from our treasury.”
Minister Irion continued, “Government's intention is not to punish civil servants or to make them suffer. That is absolutely, not the goal. However, what we hope to achieve, is to provide assistance for our brothers and sisters in the private sector who will lose their vacation allowance, and also may not even have an income for the coming months. I look forward to a fruitful discussion with the unions, and I firmly believe we will leave with a solution in the best interest of the St. Maarten. Now that the government has presented their proposals to the CCSU, we await further feedback from the Unions.”
“As a government, we are prepared to be in solidarity with the suffering being experienced by the people throughout our community and only ask for understanding from our civil servants as we go through a precarious financial period,” concluded Prime Minister Jacobs.