The Employers Council of St. Maarten, ECSM, had the honor of representing employers on St. Maarten on June 12th 2023 at the International Labor Organization Conference, ILC, in Geneva, Switzerland. The selected representative of the ECSM, Ms. Edna Evans, delivered a compelling presentation to a room packed with delegates from several countries that comprised of governments, employee and employer representatives. Attendees listened attentively as she reiterated several grievances held by employers on St. Maarten that were shared with the ILO since 2020 namely the intrusion of government and their interference in employers having the freedom to choose their representatives by establishing the SEA via the Chamber of Commerce and assigning them the bulk of appointments to the Social Economic Counsel or the SER even before they were in existence. She also shared the new developments namely the subjective restrictions placed on the employers and employees regarding the requirements for their nomination to the SER.
The ILO, through its annual International Labor Conference, has several supervisory mechanisms that may be employed in order to address any shortcomings in the application of the Ratified conventions and recommendations. The severity of this issue and the uniqueness of the situation where both employer and workers reps had the same shared concern about governments long reach was so compelling, that the ILO selected St. Maarten from a list of other countries to present its case to the Conference Committee on the Application of Standards also known as the “CAS”.
Freedom of Association” is a fundamental principle that was set out 75 years ago by the ILO, through convention 087 and adopted by over 187 countries and dependencies of which St. Maarten was one. Since then, this right has been solidified in other international conventions such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Right.
Much ink has been spilled on the 111th session of the International Labor Conference, and while all of it is relevant, it misses one fundamental point. The SER is the only advisory body established through art 71 of our Constitution that through its composition seeks the advice of the social partners (employers and workers) and as such it fulfills the so-called forum function.
The government is free to ask anyone for any type of advice (including the COCI as per article 11 of the “LANDSVERORDENING regelende de samenstelling, inrichting en bevoegdheid van de Kamer van Koophandel en Nijverheid.”)
Throughout the last several years we have seen countless paid consultants hired, whether through the NRPB/World Bank or the TWO/COHO. Many have engaged with the ECSM in order to inform their recommendations, the government may choose to adopt or reject. It is however the prerogative of the Employers and Worker representatives through the SER to inform government and the public in general of the societal support base for any initiative they see as important in the socio-economic context. It is of course up to government to accept or reject these non-binding advices.
What is not correct is government interfering with employers and workers representative organizations’ right to freely elect their representatives, for any reason outside the narrowly defined interest of national order as clearly set out in our Constitution. Subjective selection parameters such as having “… a peaceful and solution-oriented mindset”, representatives having minimum a “HBO” diploma, and “Verbal and written fluency in both English and Dutch language” makes the selection of the members for the SER more stringent than the selection for the position of Parliamentarian of Country St. Maarten, the highest legislative body in our country.
When the ILO offers observations, these come from an international organization consisting of 187 countries and dependencies. They are the foremost international experts on labor standards. It is this Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations that indicated that the conventions are not being adhered to or applied in the correct way. The ILO determined that the government of St. Maarten was not living up to convention 87 and, once again, reminded them of their obligation as government to both the employers and workers of St. Maarten. A full review of the observations of the ILO and the case presented can be found via this link starting from page 33 https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_885425.pdf
Sint Maarten faces many challenges. The issue at the core of the ILO recommendations, is how we go about addressing these challenges, the fundamental freedom of employers and workers to elect their representatives to the legal entities that seek their input. It is a key requirement for the proper functioning of our constitutional democracy, and may only be restricted by law in the narrow and well-defined interest of national order.
The ECSM looks forward to working with any and all associations, freely established and chosen, that meet the ILO standards for employer organizations, in the best interest of employers in particular and Sint Maarten in general.
At this point there is little benefit in looking back. ECSM’s focus is on finding equitable solutions, on the future and ensuring that the fundamental rights of everyone on Sint Maarten are respected, encouraging social dialogue and consensus building, and through this process contributing to sustainable and equitable socio-economic growth for all who call Sint Maarten home.