Published On: Sat, Feb 15th, 2020

Will Minister Gordon’s new work permit policy do any good?

Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

Minister Pamela Gordon-Carty is not the first one to come up with measures to protect the local labor market. Her work permit policy that went into effect on February 7 has met with instant resistance from employers organizations. Said reactions in turn have inspired other to rail against the employment of foreigners on the island. The question is of course whether the new policy will have any meaningful effect.

The advice the Social Economic Council (SER) issued in November 2013 about yet another work policy measure – the counterpart-rule – immediately came to mind. And that advice is crystal clear: existing law already offers sufficient tools to keep unwanted foreigners out and in doing so, protect the local labor market.

The SER wrote in its advice that (in 2013) just 21 percent of all employees were born in St. Maarten, that 13 percent were born on other islands in the Dutch Caribbean and that 66 percent were born elsewhere. In other words: the local labor market depends heavily on immigration.

That could have something to do with one of two things: failure to educate locals for available jobs or a brain drain – a flight of qualified locals to foreign labor markets.

Another factor is this one: there are no measures in place against employers who hire foreigners and pay them below the minimum wage.

The SER also noted that research into the skill levels of locals and the demands of the labor market are not up to par. In other words: the data that ought to underpin any piece of legislation or any policy aimed at improving a perceived unwanted situation are missing.

I doubt very much that the situation has improved during the past six or seven years on any of these issues.

So what is the real issue here? The work permits issued to foreign workers of course. The government issues these permits – and it has the authority to deny them as well – but now the minister comes with additional rules and regulations to force employers to hire more locals.

The National Employment Service Center seems to be at the heart of this new policy and the minister’s intentions seem to be benign. And yet I doubt that adding another layer of bureaucracy is going to do anything to improve the perspectives for local job seekers.

To get a work permit applicants need a residence permit. And to get a residence permit they have to prove to immigration that they have sufficient funds. So, no money, no residence permit; no residence permit, no work permit. This according to the aforementioned SER report.

From that perspective it seems to me that the Social Economic Council was right all those years ago: the government has all the tools to get a grip on the labor market already at its disposal. All it has to do is use them.

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