New rules on islands create working poor

(from the Daily Herald) THE HAGUE–The DutchGovernment has created a group of “working poor” among the civil servants in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

Dutch Government Representative (Rijksvertegenwoordiger) for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba Wilbert Stolte issued this warning in his second progress report, which was sent to the Dutch Parliament’s Second Chamber last week.

In his report, Stolte spoke of the low salary of civil servants on the islands, who earn a lot less than their colleagues in the European part of The Netherlands. Under the old Antillean law, a civil servant was allowed to have a side job and to combine two (low-) paid jobs. That is no longer allowed under the new Dutch regulations.

For example, a fire-fighter must give up his part-time job in construction and as a result, has a low income. “In the Netherlands Antilles, it was allowed to combine two (low-) paid jobs stemming from the philosophy that it was impossible to live off one salary.”

“By applying simultaneously contradictory Antillean (low-salary) and Dutch standards (no unacceptable ancillary positions), the Dutch Government has unintentionally created a group of working poor among its own employees,” stated Stolte.

According to Stolte, the old standards of the Netherlands Antilles often conflict with the European Netherlands standards that were implemented when the three islands became part of the Dutch Constellation as public entities, on October 10, 2010.

“On the one hand, the policy of The Netherlands is aimed at protecting the uniqueness of the Dutch Caribbean by emphasising the insularity of the islands and the geographic position in South America. On the other hand, European Netherlands norms are applied directly in increasingly more areas. That increasingly leads to conflicting standards,” he stated. Simultaneous application of conflicting European Netherlands and  Antillean standards can also lead to inconsistent action by the Dutch Government. “Occasionally, citizens get the feeling that double standards are applied at the convenience of the government.” The Representative said it was important for the Dutch Government to be consistent in the  application of its norms. “It seems inevitable that political choices must be made in this matter: apply either the old Antillean standard or the new Dutch standards.”

 A similar problem occurs with public tenders. Because the Kingdom Service Caribbean Netherlands (Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland (RCN)) is part of the European Netherlands Government, the European tendering rules are applicable to products and services purchased by RCN. This means that in principle, all qualifying tenders must be offered on the European market, even though the islands are located far from Europe. For lack of experience with and knowledge of European tendering, it is likely that local companies will have less chances to get orders from the Dutch Government than companies from the European Netherlands, explained Stolte.

“This situation is undesirable for the economic development of the islands. I would very much like to see that tendering can take place in a manner suitable to the region,” he concluded. The Representative further stated that not much had come of the initial intention to prevent an increase of pressure from new legislation and regulations. There was supposed to be “legislative restraint,” but in practice, the opposite is  happening. “There are good intentions behind all these new rules. But it needs to be kept in mind that only 21,000 people live jointly on the islands. The institutions, businesses, governments, schools, hospitals, simply are not capable of processing so many new rules in such a short time.”

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