Published On: Thu, Jun 4th, 2020

The bottom line

By Hilbert Haar

It cannot surprise anyone that the government’s cost-cutting measures in exchange for receiving liquidity support from the Netherlands have become the center of an epic controversy, especially at the government-owned companies.

TelEm comes to mind in this respect with its proposal to cut salaries across the board by 12.5 percent in combination with some other measures. The message from the top: do or die. The telecom union (SMCU) objects and points to the way utilities company GEBE has dealt with the government’s cost-cutting directive.

I cannot help but thinking that GEBE is exercising some creative bookkeeping with its proposed solution. Out of the 2.2 million in savings, 1.2 million affect employees.

Part of that 1.2 million is savings on tuition for a bit more than 350,000 guilders. The rest does affect the finances of employees directly or indirectly: practically no more daily allowances, no more gifts or celebrations, and no more free alcohol, program. To avoid any misunderstandings: I figure that the company does not provide free alcohol but instead treatment programs for employees that struggle with alcohol-addiction. They are on their own now.

The most remarkable cost-cutting proposal is for more than one million guilders: vacancies. In other words, GEBE wants to cut costs it has not made yet. I am not an accountant but I find this rather odd. I don’t know either how up to date the GEBE website is but when I looked under the tab vacancies I found only three of them: for Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operations Officer.

While GEBE is not touching the gross salary of its employees, said employees will still go home with less money in their pockets: dropping the budget for daily allowances from more than 210,000 to just under 22,000 guilders makes that clear.

The more important question in this cost-cutting drive is what all this is going to do to our island’s struggling economy. I was tempted to write that George Floyd’s “I can’t breathe” has already become a reality for our tourism-driven economy, but on second thought I consider such a comparison indecent.

Our economy – read: our shopkeepers, our service providers – are struggling to stay afloat. Will taking money away from salary workers like civil servants make this situation better or worse?

Duh.

When consumers have less money in their pockets, our economy will go even further down the tubes – and who is going to benefit from that scenario?

State Secretary Knops has indicated that, as far as cuts go, the minimum wage is the bottom line. I suggest a different approach: figure out what it takes to lead a decent life in St. Maarten – a life whereby citizens are able to pay their bills and keep food on the table and mark that as the bottom line. Everybody who stays above that marker will be able to contribute without losing a good night’s sleep. That’s called solidarity.

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Relevant links:
Cost-cutting measures become bone of contention
Letter State Secretary Knops to Dutch Second Chamber dated May 19, 2020
GEBE Internal Notice – financial aid conditions
Letter June 2, 2020, to Government-owned companies re cost-cutting measures
TelEm Response letter to SMCU Cost-Cutting Measures
Union wants forensic audit at TelEm reinstated
SMCU union rejects TelEm’s pay cut proposal
Reply letter SMCU union to TelEm
Financially Troubled TelEm
Telem sends letter to union; all salaries to be cut by 12,5%
TelEm Letter to Union re decrease labor conditions
Stimulus plan asks Netherlands for 254 million