Published On: Tue, Apr 26th, 2022

Slikken of stikken

By Hilbert Haar

I don’t want to cause any trouble but this statement from the International Labor Organization (ILO) is too good to keep from the good citizens of St. Maarten and in particular from all those who have been, or will be, affected by the Kingdom’s insistence that government-owned companies cut the labor conditions of their staff by 12.5 percent in exchange for liquidity support.

What’s going on here? The Dutch state demanded that the national airline KLM cut the labor conditions of its staff by 20 percent in exchange for financial support. The seven labor unions that represent KLM-employees were incensed that they never got the opportunity to be part of the negotiations about this deal. KLM handled it and the unions just had to swallow the decision.

But now the ILO, a part of the United Nations, has ruled that the Dutch state violated the unions’ freedom of negotiation by not involving them in negotiations about government support for KLM.

Sounds familiar? The Dutch state did exactly the same when it imposed conditions on St. Maarten in exchange for liquidity support. The local labor unions were never part of the negotiations about this deal, if there were negotiations at all to begin with. At the time, State Secretary for Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops, made his intentions very clear: slikken of stikken, as they say in the Netherlands. You either accept this condition (to cut labor conditions for employees of government-owned companies) or you won’t get any liquidity support.

The Dutch labor unions who feel shafted by the state over the financial support for KLM seem to realize that it is no use crying over spilt milk. What is done, is done. But they did send a letter to Prime Minister Mark Rutte to express their frustrations.

“The state should have consulted the labor unions about the conditions it set for financial support – read: the contribution of the KLM-staff. That did not happen and it violated international treaties.” the unions wrote.

The ILO-statement about this issue strengthens the unions’ belief that they are within their rights. One of the unions has already announced that is does not feel bound by the conditions anymore – in other words: they won’t accept a 20 percent salary-cut.

Government-owned companies in St. Maarten have been struggling to find a 12.5 percent cut in the labor conditions of their employees without touching their base-salary.

No matter how you look at it, the ILO-ruling in the KLM-case dramatically changes the perspective and it gives the local unions every reason to renew their efforts to undo any cuts the government had imposed in the meantime.

Whether said unions have any chance to win that fight is anybody’s guess. But it surely puts them in a stronger position for future events.

The KLM-unions seem to understand that it is pointless asking the government to revoke the 20-percent cut. That’s why they stick to expressing their frustration to Rutte by pointing out the fundamental right to collective negotiations: “We call on the state to respect these rights and to never again impose further conditions in the field of collective labor conditions of KLM-employees or employees of other companies.”

So far, the reaction of the Dutch prime minister has been predictable: silence.