Published On: Thu, May 28th, 2020

What is reasonable?

Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs has appealed to labor unions to be more reasonable in their approach to the government since it has become clear that said unions are squarely opposed to the looming 12.5 percent salary cut for civil servants.

It is, to phrase this carefully, at best a rather volatile situation. The government has made a commitment to the kingdom by accepting conditions for liquidity support that even the editorial staff of the authoritative Dutch newspaper Trouw considers as being too harsh. In that sense, the unions do not stand alone.

The term unfair (used on Monday by healthcare union rep Brunilda  Illidge) should not be part of the debate. Unfair is a term used by little children that are unable to win a silly game.

What about reasonable then? That term has been thrown out by the Prime Minister. The question becomes therefore: what exactly is reasonable and what is unreasonable?

The problem is that this is different for every civil servant. We cannot look into their wallets and we do not know anything about each individual’s financial situation. Some could be up to their eyeballs in debt while others have stuffed all the money they don’t really need in a piggybank for a rainy day.

No matter how much or how little somebody makes, it is very human to adjust one’s lifestyle to one’s income. For some it is a nice house or a shiny car – most likely financed with a mortgage or a personal loan – for others it is fine dining, clothing or women. Who is best able to bite the bullet in times of crises?

Houses can be auctioned, cars can be repossessed. The first option will leave someone homeless, the second one will require alternative means of transportation. Fine dining, clothing and women can easily be shelved in the face of an economic crisis.

No matter what, civil servants are in for a hard time. If the government buckles, civil servants may celebrate a true Pyrrhic victory until early July. That’s when the Kingdom Council of Ministers will take decisions about the next tranche of liquidity support – and that money will not become available if St. Maarten has not complied with the conditions by then.

Another question that has come up is related to the salary cuts at government-owned companies. What happens with the savings at these entities? Do they flow back into the treasury? And if not, what then is the point of all this?

There is no happy ending to this story. One way or the other, St. Maarten is going to feel the harsh consequences of the corona-virus crisis.

I often hear people say something like, we’re in this together or, we’re in the same boat. The reality is that not everybody feels that way (and not everybody is in the same boat either – some are bigger than others). The civil servants seem bent on protecting what they have; standing together with the have-nots is apparently not part of their strategy.

I feel their pain (not literally of course, but still). But do our civil servants feel the pain of those who have to make do with even less?

Answer: apparently not.

Question: is that reasonable?

My answer: nope.

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We are all in this together, right?
We are all in the same boat