Soualiga Newsday Features

Soualiga Newsday Features (1734)

ChristenUnie, Socialists want restrictions to EU labour migration

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands should be able to decide how many migrant workers it allows into the country from eastern and central Europe, according to two Dutch political parties.

ChristenUnie from the government coalition and the opposition Socialists want to make it possible for the Netherlands to agree deals with Poland, Romania and Bulgaria about how many and what type of worker should be allowed to come and work here.

‘Ukranians are replacing Poles. Poles, sometimes working in poor conditions, are replacing the Dutch. And people on welfare benefits are being written off,’ ChristenUnie leader Gert-Jan Segers said on Twitter.

The plan would not conflict with EU rules on the free movement of people because of a clause which allows countries to intervene if there is a threat of ‘social disruption’, the parties say.

Currently some 250,000 people from Poland, Romania and Bulgaria work in the Netherlands, often doing poorly paid work on short term contracts. Segers and his SP counterpart Lilian Marijnissen argue that some employers are taking advantage of migrant workers by paying low wages and offering poor working conditions.

Workers from Poland, Romania and other eastern and central European countries earn the lowest wages of all immigrant groups, according to research from national statistics office CBS published earlier this year.

Some 80% of the 180,000 Polish nationals working in the Netherlands earn less than €15 per hour and 18% of them earn less than €10, the CBS said.


Earlier this year, ABN Amro economists warned that many eastern Europeans in the Netherlands will leave because the economies in their home countries are growing and wages there are rising.

In particular, the farming sector, manufacturing, construction and transport will be hit because companies in these sectors are already feeling the impact of the shortage of workers. The official Dutch unemployment rate is currently below 4%. Segers and Marijinissen plan to publish more details about their plans after the summer break.



Amsterdam wants to bring in ‘no junk food zones’ around schools

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Officials in Amsterdam wants to restrict the number of snack bars and fast food joints near schools in an effort to reduce obesity rates among the city’s children.

A campaign launched in 2012 helped reduced the percentage of too-heavy children in the Dutch capital from 21% to 18% over a three-year period but the decline has since halted.

Now alderman Simone Kukenheim plans to take further action to improve the health of the city’s school going children. She wants to introduce a ‘healthy belt’ around schools without snack bars to prevent children filling up on chips and sweets during their breaks, the Parool reported at the weekend.

Kukenheim hopes new zoning legislation which will come into effect in 2021 and which aims to ensure a ‘safe and healthy physical environment’ will help reduce the number of snack bars near schools.

‘We are researching how these new rules can be used to encourage a healthier supply of food,’ the alderman said. The city has also recently expanded the number of water fountains in the city to encourage children to ditch fizzy drinks.


The alderman has appealed to health minister Paul Blokhuis, urging him to get tougher on the sugar, salt and fat content in food. She also wants him to clamp down on the way unhealthy food is marketed at children.

Socio-economic status and cultural background also play a role in childhood obesity and the problem is largely confined to poorer parts of the city and among immigrant communities.

The 2012 campaign included advising schools to ban fruit juices, and unhealthy treats for at birthday celebrations and introduced a ban on fast food sponsorship of council events involving children.

Amsterdam already bans cannabis cafes, or coffeeshops, from being within 250 metres of a school.



Johnson meets COPA CEO: flight frequency to four weekly in December

SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - Chief Executive Officer of International Airline COPA, Pedro Hilebron announced during a meeting held on Tuesday last week with Tourism Minister Stuart Johnson that the airline’s four weekly flights will resume in the months of DEC and January by December this year. 

During the meeting, it was also disclosed that at present, COPA flights are running with 76% load factors. The figure shows that St. Maarten has an opportunity to improve and with the Copa MOU and the campaign between Anguilla and St. Maarten as Johnson's plan is expected to increase destination awareness and visitors' arrival significantly over the next six months.

The airline’s CEO was pleased that the Honorable Minister came to meet with the Airline and updated him on the island's recovery as well as that of the surrounding hub islands. During the meeting Johnson further pledged his commitment to Copa Airlines. CEO Hilebron also provided an update on the airline's plans given the industry challenges with aircrafts and he has committed to the Copa/St. Maarten partnership.

The Delegation from St. Maarten attending the high-level meeting with COPA top executives at their headquarters in Panama, was led by Minister Johnson. It consisted of Chef de Cabinet for the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport & Telecommunication (TEATT) Ms. Regina Labega, Head of Civil Aviation Mr. Louis Halley and Director of Tourism Ms. May-Ling Chun. 

"St. Maarten continues to make significant headway towards full restoration of our visitor arrival numbers, and this comes through continued dialogue with our international partners. Their trust in our destination is evidence that our product is amongst the best in the world," said Johnson on Sunday.

He said, "The Ministry of TEATT will continue to actively engage our international and local partners while at the same time ensuring that we do the work needed to restore our main gateway and bring our island back to its former glory."

During last week's meeting which included the Commercial Team from COPA Airlines Minister Johnson provided some updates on St. Maarten's reconstruction post-hurricane Irma in 2017. He told the Airline top staffers that the Government of St. Maarten was especially grateful for the efforts COPA made in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma with relief flights for visitors. 

Johnson told the Airline reps, "The island has made significant progress based on the resilience and determination of its people. We are still busy with the restoration of the SXM Airport, and along with our Hub Partners and Hotels, we have had significant increases in airlifts and visitor arrivals. This increase in numbers is to a large extent based on the fact that Princess Juliana International Airport now operates from inside the terminal building with a capacity of 1200 passengers during peak hours." 

During the meeting, Johnson spoke at length with the airline about the Airport's recovery and improvement efforts. He explained that the roof of the terminal building has been completely restored to category five wind speed resistance. 

He said, "There are presently 36 Counters on the ground floor using the Common Use Terminal Equipment, (CUTE) system. The seating capacity for the section of the Airport being used is presently at 620, and there are 14 concessionaries." 

Johnson told the COPA Representatives it was essential to note that the restoration of the Terminal will be the main focus of Package 2 in Q3 of 2019 to Q2 of 2021 which will include four boarding bridges and upgrades to the baggage handling systems. In Package 3, Johnson explained that the Airport would concentrate on US Preclearance in 2021 and the expansion of the Apron Parking. 

The eight days that COPA will fly to St. Maarten in August are the 4th 7th 11th 14th, 18th, 21st. 25th and 28th. The airline will increase to nine flights in September and October and reduce to eight flights in November before increasing to 18 flights in December. The flights depart from Panama at 7:22 AM and arrives in St. Maarten at ARR 11:30 AM. It departs St. Maarten at 2:26 PM and returns to Panama at 2:44 PM. 

According to Director of Tourism May-Ling Chun, "This was a crucial visit for Minister Johnson to meet with Copa Airlines, as they are our only Latin America carrier that is a crucial part for the further development of the tourism industry of St. Maarten in the Latin American market." 


Justice minister calls for fewer festivals, to combat drug use

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Justice minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus has said that the government needs to ‘think critically’ about whether the Netherlands should continue to hold 1,100 festivals a year, in order to stem the use of recreational drugs.

In an interview with the Telegraaf, Grapperhaus said that he has warned drug users ‘that you are helping an enormous criminal industry and the impact is felt by normal people.’

People discovered with drug quantities considered to be for their ‘own use’, he said, would not be let into festivals and those suspected to be dealers would be arrested. ‘If we could police this, you’d really see something,’ he reportedly said.

‘The problem is that we have 1,100 festivals in the Netherlands so should we put our police on this full-time?’ The CDA minister added that he did not do drugs, but his own guilty pleasures post-debate was crisps and Tony’s Chocolonely chocolate.



Mum’s the word: babies learn language quicker from mama

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A university study has suggested that toddlers learn words more quickly from their mothers than from unfamiliar speakers.

Dr Rianne van Rooijen, a developmental psychologist at Utrecht University, investigated how children learn communication skills by interacting with other people by looking at groups of toddlers and adolescents.

She compared groups of typical two-year olds and those with ‘increased risk for autism’, looking at how they learned vocabulary from direct interaction with the mother, the mother’s pre-recorded speech and interaction with strangers.

‘Results for the typical population showed that compared to unfamiliar speakers, maternal speech indeed boosts novel word learning,’ she said in an extract from research to be published in full in December.

Although children at risk of autism ‘lagged behind in their current vocabulary size’, they were also just as likely to learn new words better from their mothers. The researcher studied 149 normal two-year-olds, half of whom were shown computer screens with novel, named objects and half of whom were taught the new words by their mothers.

A second study looked at whether children at risk of autism learned words as easily as the typical group. Van Rooijen told the Volkskrant that it was unclear if the effect would be replicated with another familiar voice or whether it was a mother-child phenomenon.

‘If a grandfather or grandmother often takes care of a child and the child recognises their voice, this could have an effect on the learning process,’ she said. ‘But this is speculation.’

Prof Caroline Rowland, professor in first language acquisition at Radboud University told the Volkskrant that the study gave insights into how toddlers learn words, adding that it could help in developing language lessons, particularly for children with special needs.



Stints cleared to return to the road a year after fatal crash

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The electric transport vehicles known as ‘Stints’ will be back on the road for the new school year after strict conditions were agreed.

Transport minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen wrote to Parliament on Wednesday with details of the new rules. The 3,000 Stints are being upgraded to fix a problem with the braking system and will be allowed to carry a maximum of eight children, rather than 10 as before.

The wagons were widely used to transport children to and from daycare facilities but were banned in the wake of a fatal crash in Oss, Noord-Brabant, last year in which four children died.

Last week the public prosecution service said it had been unable to determine the cause of the accident last September in which a Stint collided with a train. Prosecutors said that the 33-year-old woman driving the vehicle had done everything she could to stop the vehicle.



Man arrested for suspected €4.3m fraud at Royal FloraHolland

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – An employee of Royal FloraHolland has been arrested for suspected embezzlement of €4.3m.

The NOS broadcaster reports that the man is thought to have taken the money during a nine-month period while working as a specialist in the financial department.

No other employees are thought to have been involved in the fraud, and the company told the NOS that it has taken measures to prevent further abuses and made an insurance claim against the theft.



Councillor asks police to investigate racist comments on PVV Facebook page

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The anti-immigrant PVV party is facing a police investigation after a post on its Facebook page targeting a Muslim councillor attracted a string of racist responses.

The PVV’s Utrecht branch posted a screenshot of Ugbaad Kilincci, a Labour party (PvdA) councillor in Emmen, after she appeared on TV show Nieuwsuur in December last year wearing a headscarf.

The photo, captioned ‘PvdA councillor in Emmen’, triggered replies containing racial slurs and rape threats which stayed on Facebook for 30 weeks until Kilincci complained to the social media site.

Kilincci said she only became aware of the post at the weekend. After asking Facebook to have the post taken down, she posted a reply on her own page with a screenshot of the replies.

She told RTV Drenthe she would be reporting the incident to the police: ‘This has crossed the line, morally and legally.’

‘I am angry that politicians are sharing a photograph of me with the expectation of sparking hateful responses,’ she added. ‘That’s why I view it as incitement to hatred. I think it’s sad that we behave like this towards each other.’

René Dercksen, chair of the PVV in Utrecht, said a number of comments had been removed from the post after Kilincci complained. Asked why the photo had been posted, he said: ‘There must have been a reason, but it was so long ago.’

Kilincci was elected to Emmen’s town council last year, having arrived in the Netherlands as a child and grown up in Drenthe. She was 12th on the PvdA’s list of candidates but took one of the party’s four council seats on the strength of preference votes.

While out campaigning, she was subjected to racial abuse in the streets.


ugbaad square




SINT MAARTEN/CARIBBEAN (COMMENTARY) - Can tourism dependent Caribbean governments learn something from oil producing countries? When relatively small and poor oil producing governments sought to get a fair price for oil – their main source of national revenue – they banded together to negotiate more effectively with the multi-national oil companies and the larger developed nations, which were the major consumers of their oil.

In 1960 five of these countries came together to found OPEC – the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries – and were later joined by nine additional member states. As a result of their joint stronger bargaining power, oil prices have risen relatively steadily from US$1.63 per barrel in 1960 to an average of around US$77 during the last ten years.

The weak negotiating position of individual Caribbean governments versus the massive cruise line corporations, relative to port taxes, poses similarities to OPEC’s situation sixty years ago and the same potential “rebalancing” strategy should now be pursued in the Caribbean. If governments across the whole region, including Central America, come together and form OTEC – the Organization of Tourism Economy Countries – they can negotiate as a cartel from a position of greater strength with the cruise lines. Currently, when individual countries try to increase port taxes, they are threatened with being dropped from cruise itineraries and can be picked off one by one by the powerful cruise lines.

From a better bargaining position, state or national governments with single destination cruise itineraries – Alaska, Bermuda and Hawaii – have already negotiated higher cruise port revenues than those in the average Caribbean country. Cruise ships stay two nights in Bermuda and pay at least US$50 per passenger. For mainland United States and Canada cruise itineraries, an average of 33% of the cruise ticket price goes to port taxes, compared to an average 14% for a Caribbean itinerary. By negotiating together, governments in the Greater Caribbean region can achieve similar results to these destinations with higher port taxes.

A recent statement from the Government of Antigua & Barbuda summarized the history and current situation of regional cruise taxes, as follows. In 1993 Caricom countries initially agreed to impose a minimum US$10 port head tax for cruise passengers but this was never implemented because of internal disagreements. A range of today’s head taxes in the Caribbean is as follows: US$18 – The Bahamas and The British Virgin Islands, US$15 – Jamaica, US$13.25 – Puerto Rico, US$7 - Belize, US$6 – St Kitts & Nevis, US$5 – St Lucia, US$4.50 – Grenada, US$1.50 - Dominican Republic.

Imagine the economic benefit, if these cruise tax rates could be increased and standardized across the region at the higher levels listed. One directly relevant and current challenge could be addressed – the current sky-high airport and air ticket taxes in the region could be reduced to help increase the volume of stay-over visitors in the Caribbean.

Stay-over travelers, whether intra-regional or from outside the Caribbean, spend very much more than cruise ship passengers and generate considerably more local employment than today’s cruise ship business model, which is now highly exploitive of Caribbean countries. An increase in stay-over visitors drives the development of more hotels and marinas, as well as many other forms of real estate and tourism infrastructure investment. Reduced air ticket prices keep intra-regional airlines, like LIAT, flying and increase the number of airline seats into Caribbean destinations from the rest of the world.

The cruise industry business model has changed radically and aggressively in the last fifteen years and should no longer be viewed as an ideal “partner” for the countries of the Caribbean. There is a growing sense in the islands with the highest cruise ship volumes, like St Thomas and Sint Maarten, that today’s port taxes are not adequate compensation for the overcrowding of down town areas, the pollution from the burning of heavy fuel oil and the minimal spend ashore of today’s cruise ship passengers. The mega ships now have multiple shops, casinos, restaurants and bars offering all-inclusive packages that totally distract passengers from spending ashore. In the last twenty years ships’ commissions on shore excursions have risen from 10% to 50%, discouraging passengers from going ashore at all and squeezing any possible profit margin for local tour operators. Today, over 80% of a cruise ship passenger’s DISCRETIONARY spend is on board.

Most cruise ships enjoy a double high season – Caribbean for less than six months and the balance of the year in Alaska or the Mediterranean – operating virtually free of corporation taxes and with very low wage bills. The largest ships cost less than US$300,000 per cabin to build, while new hotel rooms in the Caribbean cost double that figure per room to develop and have only one high season. The cruise ship’s highly competitive business model and the further recent growth of cruise tourism in the region might be viewed as a direct disincentive for resort investment and re-investment in the Caribbean.

The total number of cruise ship passengers was over 27 million world-wide in 2018, up nearly 10% from two years earlier. In the next ten years, 106 new ships are expected to enter service and, currently, over 50% of the world’s cruise fleet is based in the Caribbean for the Winter. The hugely profitable cruise industry can afford to absorb higher port taxes in the Caribbean and will do so, once faced with a stronger negotiating entity.

Do not believe any cruise line threats that they can pull out of the region all together. The Caribbean is the only archipelago with natural beauty and sophisticated tourism infrastructure, located directly between the established feeder cruise markets of North America and Europe and the growth feeder market of South America.

Is it not now abundantly clear that, at the very least, there is an absolute logic to rebalance the tax burden between the Caribbean’s stay-over visitor and the cruise ship passenger?

Robert MacLellan

Managing Director

MacLellan & Associates

Note: MacLellan & Associates is the largest hospitality consultancy based in the Caribbean. Robert MacLellan is a veteran of the hotel and resort industry. In his early career, he was an onboard hotel officer with a major cruise line and, later, a Vice President of an explorer cruise line.


Almost a million Dutch children have formal childcare

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Last year almost a million Dutch children were in childcare while their parents worked or studied, according to the latest figures from the CBS Dutch statistics office.

The number of children cared for by a crèche, before or after school care, or a childminder has increased steadily in the last five years to 950,000, which the body says is a sign of a buoyant economy.

Forty percent of children of 12 or younger currently have some form of paid-for childcare, it says. Households paid on average €6,180 a year for the care last year – around €500 a month – and 70% of this was refunded by childcare subsidies.

A spokesman for the CBS told DutchNews that the amount of money given to parents in the first four months of 2019 has risen, compared with last year. ‘We also know that the government has made more money available,’ he added.

In 2018, the average parents received €4,200 in childcare support subsidies, with a total payout of around €2.6bn. This year, although more budget is available, the government has decreased the ‘declarable’ maximum hourly rate.

If a child carer charges more, the parent makes up the difference, and this is the case for at least 40% of children – and almost 83% of those in after school care. In order to receive the payment, both parents must be working or studying for a minimum number of hours.

Separately, Trouw reported on Tuesday that possibly ‘thousands of parents had their subsidies stopped or taken back by the tax office in the past, when they were entitled to keep them, due to an investigation into fraud.


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