Three Cheri’s Café workers lose their bids for damages

PHILIPSBURG--Three former employees of Cheri’s Café who lost their jobs when the Maho restaurant closed its doors after Hurricane Irma in September 2017 lost their bid for damages for what they considered their “irregular” dismissal.
 
The bartender and two waiters/busboys had filed a case against Cheri’s Café’s holding company Sea Goddess N.V. in April. The workers are entitled to three to four months’ wages with “cessantia” payment, the Judge said in Tuesday’s ruling.
 
The employees received a letter in November 2017 stating that following the destruction by Hurricane Irma and “after the already major downturn in business for the past seven years” their employer had taken the decision not to reopen Cheri’s Café. “We do not know at this time when or if we will reopen,” it said.
 
In accordance with their labour agreements, the workers were kept in employment for one month, From October 6, the day the restaurant was to reopen after the low-season break, until November 6, 2017. In the letter, the workers were informed that their labour agreements were terminated as of that date.
 
“In strict accordance” with the St. Maarten labour laws, Cheri’s Café provided them with a lump-sum payment, including four months of basic salaries and severance packages for the number of years worked at the café. The amounts were before income tax and old-age AOV premiums were deducted according to St. Maarten’s tax laws.
 
The employees, who had been working at the café for 18 and 21 years, objected to their dismissal, as the Labour Office had not given permission. As parties failed to reach a settlement, the three employees turned to the Court.
 
The three called on the Judge to declare the termination of their labour agreement illegal and to award damages. However, the Court did not find any grounds for damages. The company was closed after Irma and, therefore, did not generate any income. The three employees worked part-time at the restaurant and did not contest that they had other sources of income, the Judge said in the decision.
 
The judge said it will “undoubtedly” be the case that the employees will find it difficult to get started elsewhere in the hospitality industry. “This applies to a large proportion of the working population of St. Maarten,” the Judge said. However, this should not be at their employer’s expense and risk, as the company suffered considerable damage and was closed as a result of the hurricane, the Court stated.
 
The workers also claimed payment of their wages for September and October 2017. This claim was also rejected, as the restaurant was closed in September every year. Workers only received their vacation allowances during that month.
 
Besides, the employees had failed to show up when they were called in by their employer to clean up the mess on October 9. Therefore, the employer successfully made an appeal to the rule of “no work, no-pay,” the Court said, also because the labour agreements and pay slips showed that the workers did not receive fixed wages, but were paid based on their number of workhours.
 
The Judge ordered Cheri’s Café to pay its three employees three and four months wages, plus “cessantia” payment, which is exactly what the company had offered.
 
The workers were ordered to pay the legal costs of the proceedings.
 
The Daily Herald

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