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Unions will mobilize if dismissal law abolished

The Daily Herald 22 July 2000

PHILIPSBURG--The Windward Islands Chamber of Labour Unions (WICLU) will mobilize its members into the course of action that is appropriate, if the dismissal law is abolished, President of the Chamber Theophilus Thompson announced on Thursday.

The unions were tightlipped about the type of action that would be taken to express their protest against the abolishing of the dismissal law, but according to WICLU's first vice president Claire Elshot, there will be consequences.

WICLU, which includes the Windward Islands Civil Servants Union, the Windward Island Teachers Union and the Windward Islands Federation of Labour, has a combined membership of approximately 3,000 persons.

Thompson told members of the media at a press conference on Thursday that the unions are realizing a number of developments that will affect the masses, and their memberships in particular, that are taking place in St. Maarten and in the Antilles in general.

WICLU has been in talks with its other social partners--government and business--for about a month and one of the main topics of discussion is the government's proposal to abolish the dismissal law. Thompson said the unions had deep reservations concerning the motive behind the framework that government is proposing be put in place to replace the dismissal law.

"In our opinion, that framework is merely a vehicle for employers to be able to hire and fire employees at their own discretion and we are totally against that," said Thompson. He added that the present structure is a fair one which protects the rights of both employers and employees and as such it should be allowed to stand as it is.

"We realize that the amendment to the labour laws is currently running through Parliament and we think that we must make our position clear now," said Thompson. He pointed out that whatever is decided in Parliament will affect workers in general and St. Maarten workers in particular.

The chamber's president is also upset about the social partners in Curacao being given an opportunity to state their case to Parliament regarding the abolishing of the dismissal law, while the social partners in St. Maarten had no such opportunity.

According to Thompson, a year or two ago the chamber of unions participated in a national dialogue where the dismissal law was among the topics discussed. He said that since then the government had changed and the Minister of Labour had been replaced, and what is happening now is completely different to what was discussed at the national dialogue.

WICLU's second vice president Patricia Pantophlet echoed the sentiments of the chamber's president and added that, as a chamber of unions, "We denounce, we object, we don't accept, the labour board that was proposed by the chairman of the tripartite committee (Commissioner Michael Ferrier)." She added that the argument being used to lobby for the abolishing of the dismissal law--that it interferes with foreign investment--is without grounds.

"Investors have this idea that with the current dismissal law they cannot fire someone who is not being productive. We believe that this is a deliberate orchestration on the part of business, to implement that hire and fire policy," said Pantophlet.

She said WICLU was of the opinion that this misconception had been allowed to grow by business, supported by government.