SMCU calls for deportation of TelEm’s  “illegal workers”

POSTED: 03/16/15 1:06 PM

St. Maarten – The deportation of the Surinamese workers brought in by TelEm to work on the pilot fiber to the home project is being demanded by the St. Maarten Communications Union, which also wants the Immigration Department to stamp the passports of these workers to forbid them from re-entering the island for five years.

Following an outcry from the union last week regarding these same workers, TelEm explained that the workers were brought in on an emergency and temporary basis to assist with a backlog of work and to do the pilot fiber to the home project. TelEm officials also said that once the pilot project is complete the project itself would be placed on bid locally. Since then the Immigration Department and the labour office have visited TelEm’s office following the union’s claims that the company is employing “illegal workers” to provide a service that can be done by local contractors.  TelEm’s management met with officials of the labour office in an attempt to resolve the situation and SMCU president Ludson Evers alleged yesterday that the permits for these workers are currently under consideration by the labour office, a move which has the union up in arms.

Evers called on government to ensure that no permits are granted for these workers, saying that the law clearly states that the employees must be off island before any work permit can be applied for on their behalf.  The union head threatened during a press conference yesterday that if work permits are granted to the Surinamese workers the union will take the case to the Ombudsman and then to “the higher authorities” adding that St. Maarten already has integrity issues.  Evers alleged that TelEm does not have any backlog of work for which these workers are needed as the company previously said and that the fiber to the home project being done by the Surinamese workers is not a pilot project but is actually the project which should have been placed on bid.

The SMCU originally found out about the Surinamese workers from former TelEm employee Alberto “Fish the boss” Arrindell, who was made redundant during the restructuring in 2010 and whom has since formed his own company. Arrindell’s company has previously been contracted to work for TelEm, but management explained that for this pilot project they needed persons with a proven track record in that specific field and that the contract will be placed on bid once the pilot is completed.  This pilot project is currently on hold since the Surinamese were ordered to stop work.

According to Evers there is an agreement with TelEm that states that former employees of the company who were made redundant and formed their own company would receive preference over other contractors for TelEm projects. Evers contends that local contractors including Arrindell are just as capable of doing the project being done by the Surinamese workers.  The union also took issue with the immigration department for not immediately deporting the workers and with the labour office for considering the permit request while the six Surinamese are still on the island and for not fining the company NAf 10,000 per illegal worker as stipulated in the law. Evers, who is also an employee of TelEm, stressed that the labour office should hold the company accountable and hold them to the applicable standards.

The union head further expressed his displeasure with information he received that the Surinamese contractors are being paid $25 to $35 an hour. He clarified that this was not confirmed through official channels but believes it is reliable information based on his source. Local contractors are paid per job and not per hour Evers said, causing him to take even more issue with the Surinamese workers.

The SMCU has requested a meeting with Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs on this issue and is still awaiting a response.

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