Waiter enters seventh day of hunger strike

POSTED: 02/2/11 11:52 AM

MARIGOT/ST.MARTIN – Rui Bagina, a 59-year-old waiter and bartender, enters the seventh day of his hunger strike at the Hotel de Ville in Marigot today. Bagina started his action last week Thursday in an attempt to get some form of justice for the human rights violations he has suffered over the past ten years. Bagina claims several former employers owe him a combined €100,000 ($138,000) in unpaid salaries and overtime, and that the French legal system is making it impossible for him to get his rights.
“I have been in St. Maarten for twelve years now,” the married father of two says. “Ten years ago, I started denouncing employers for exploitation and practicing modern day slavery.”
These employers are mostly restaurants on the French side, but also include a furniture store in St. James. Bagina says that he and his colleagues were often forced to work 70 hours a week, that they did not get days off, that they did not receive pay slips and that some employers ill-treated their employees. “One co-worker used to take crack at the workplace,” he adds.
Bagina started a long journey through the French legal system that included stops at the gendarmerie and the courthouse. But he soon found out that things did not work the way he expected them to. “The gendarmes got the green light from the prosecutor’s office to inspect one of these places, but it turned out that the labor inspector, who must be present during these inspections, was not available for at least five months. So the inspection never took place. And by the time he was available the employer died.”
Bagina and three of his co-workers found an attorney prepared to take their case, but the complaints went nowhere, due to sloppy work by the attorney, and also due to the extreme slow pace of the legal system.
Nevertheless, in the end Bagina found a court ruling in his favor that ordered one employer to pay him 14,000 (a bit more than $19,000). He was not happy with this decision because he had calculated that the employer actually owed him 43,000 (a bit over $59,000). Bagina says that there are other complaints that went nowhere.
“Now I am not fighting these employers anymore,” he says, sitting in the reception hall of the Hotel de Ville. “I am fighting the system that allows employers to keep doing what they want.”
He gave a file containing twenty-five letters relevant to his crusade to COM-president Frantz Gumbs, who actually showed up in the reception hall while we spoke to Bagina. But Gumbs pointedly ignored the hunger striker on his turf.
“He told me that I am entitled to legal assistance, but I explained to him that this system does not work. State-appointed attorneys are not motivated, because the system does not cover the cost for tickets to fly to Guadeloupe and for accommodation over there. When they accept a case, they don’t work seriously.”
Nevertheless, a lawyer to finish his pending court cases is what Bagina is asking for right now. “My rights have been violated for ten years,” he says.
Bagina started his hunger strike last Thursday and he said yesterday that he will keep it up for as long as it takes to get his rights. He spent the first three days in front of the courthouse in Marigot, then moved to the Hotel de Ville, where he was sitting on a chair in the reception hall yesterday morning with a sign declaring the purpose of his hunger strike. He only drinks water, and said that he is starting to feel weak.
“For the past two-and-a-half years I have been on medication for depression,” he says. “At night, I suffer from panic attacks.”
Bagina has been unemployed since May 2009. That is due to, he says, the fact that former employers inform others about him. “I experience lots of problems getting a job, but this is the last measure to get my rights. It affects my family.”

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Comments (2)

 

  1. weirder by the day says:

    St. Maarten is getting weirder by the day. While his cause is noble, we all know this guy ain’t 2×2 either. However, instead of claiming he’s a crazy guy, I’m sure more than half of the island experiences exactly what he is striving for: “Modern day Slavery” right here on St. Maarten. People should actually support him, and an unselfish lawyer should come out and fight the case with him, not only for his sake but for the thousands out there, and make a statement by doing it.

  2. Rui Bagina says:

    Thank you for your comments. I am not worried about the statement”we all know this guy ain’t2x2 either. By yes, I would like to hear from you, WHY? Happy new year.

    Rui bagina

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