Draft ordinance to tackle abuse of short-term contracts resubmitted

PHILIPSBURG - The National Alliance Parliamentary group and independent Member of Parliament (MP) Frans Richardson presented to Chairwoman of Parliament Gracita Arrindell on Monday their amended draft ordinance to change the civil code as it pertains to short-term labour contracts.

National Alliance leader William Marlin explained that the amendments were not drastic changes to the original document, but addressed some of the concerns outlined by the Advisory Council after it had reviewed the draft ordinance several months ago. The premise remains the same: short-term labour contracts should not be given to workers holding positions of a permanent nature.

The change to the civil code calls for the requirement that a person who wants to enter into a short-term labour agreement with a potential employee would need permission from the Minister of Labour or someone assigned by the said minister to do so. Marlin explained that not every job function would require the minister's permission to enter into the agreement, but a number of jobs would be classified as such.

Marlin reiterated that although provisions in the civil code provided the possibility for a short-term agreement between employer and employee, certain businesspeople abused the process by finding and using loopholes. Over time government "adjusts the goal posts."

Once the draft has been accepted by Parliament and becomes law, the minister will have to publish a list of jobs that fall under the "watchful eye of this law." For example, Marlin said, there could be a case where a casino at some time would need nine cashiers and government could not say that a casino must have all nine in permanent service, "but it can't be so that you have eight cashiers and none in permanent service."

He said supermarkets also were places where "you see a constant change of faces." He said despite the business place being open year-round, with positions of a permanent nature, the business owner tried to avoid having a permanent relationship with his or her employees to avoid union issues and the like.

The only thing this does, Marlin continued, is create "tremendous uncertainty" among a cross section of the working community who cannot apply for a loan or even obtain housing from an institution like the St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation.

Marlin stressed that the Parliamentary groups supporting the change were not saying that short-term contracts should be abolished by the civil code, but in fact should continue to exist to provide the tools to form a legal agreement between parties who need it (certain stores that have a sudden rush of business at Christmas time, for example). "But it can't be that your store is open every day of the week, but the cashier has employment for a few months" he said.

"So we have adjusted the draft here and there. There are no fundamental changes to the draft. If or when Parliament accepts it, it is not something that moves to automatic implementation the next day, because the minister will have to put certain guidelines and provisions in place," Marlin said.

The draft ordinance can now proceed to the Central Committee for discussion, then to a public session of Parliament, where it will be voted on. It is expected to garner support from Democratic Party (DP) Parliamentary group leader Roy Marlin.

Roy Marlin said in December 2011 that while the initiative law did not necessarily cover all the needs of the working class, it was "a step in the right direction." He urged Parliament's President Gracita Arrindell to bring the draft to the floor of Parliament and said it would have his support.

"This is not about the UP [United People's, ed.] party or the DP. It is about securing the rights of workers. It's a step in the right direction. It doesn't matter who presents it," he said.

(The Daily Herald)

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