SINT MAARTEN (GREAT BAY) - WIFOL union president Theophilus E. Thompson said that the continuing insecure condition of the small businesswomen at the destroyed Philipsburg Marketplace is against international “occupational health and safety” standard.
The reference to Thompson’s statement follows last week’s rain and windstorm that destroyed or damaged a number of the temporary tents and goods of the vendors — who had their kiosks destroyed by the former tourism minister on October 9, 2017.
“The decision of the Minister,” following hurricanes Irma and Maria, was found to lack “proper reason, motives and grounds” by the Ombudsman’s legal report.
The situation of the market women, including those who are the main breadwinners of their families and some who create “Made in St. Martin” products, reached the floor of the territory’s Parliament in public discussion on January 24.
According to the parliamentary agenda for the day, the Central Committee discussed with “the market square vendors about the injustices against their livelihood by the Government of Sint Maarten.”
“A number of things happened which showed the lack of vision among our political leadership; action taken like destroying the marketplace in Philipsburg,” said Thompson in an SXM Daily News interview in early January.
“And now we see where people are being put back, rushed back, in conditions which are not according to ILO conventions, occupational health and safety doesn’t meet that standard,” said Thompson. Conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO) are ratified by most of the world’s countries and their territories, including the Netherlands, St. Maarten, and France.
The action by the small businesswomen who witnessed the tractors destroying their solid wooden kiosks, set the ball rolling. According to the Ombudsman, “On 12 October 2017 thirty (30) Marketplace vendors, represented by Mrs. Ingrid Grell-Davis (Complainants), informed the Ombudsman that they were negatively affected by the decision of the Minister of Tourism Economic Affairs, Traffic and Telecommunication.”
Following the vendors action came the Ombudsman official investigation; solidarity from cultural and labor activists, travel writers and tourists on social media, and the media release of the Ombudsman’s report in early December; a more open public opinion favoring the vendors by mid-December; the January 5 news of the Pasanggrahan court ruling against government’s placing of six market kiosks on Great Bay Beach; the former tourism minister’s acceptance of the Ombudsman report by mid-January; and the parliamentary Central Committee meeting of January 24.
The vendors have long been seeking to regroup at the market grounds, meeting with Economic Affairs department inspectors about their locations, setting up temporary tents and umbrellas, attempting to sell their souvenirs, arts and crafts, and snacks to post-hurricane visitors and the St. Martin people.
Thompson said that the women at the market are trying to make a living and take care of their families. He said that licensed vendors are independent small business people, providing a needed tourism service, instead of being dependent on government.
PHOTO CUTLINE: Philipsburg Marketplace kiosk being destroyed, with “No tangible considerations regarding the impact of the decision has on the livelihood of the vendors,” according to the Ombudsman’s investigation. (Credit: OES)
PHOTO CUTLINE: Temporary tents of vendors in February 2018, on the grounds of Philipsburg Marketplace that was destroyed on October 9, 2017, by decision of the former tourism minister (TEATT). (Credit: OES)