Minister Larmonie-Cecilia discusses the labor market during CIFA luncheon
WILLEMSTAD - The Curaçao International Financial Services Association (CIFA) regularly organizes events for professionals working in the financial services sector with the aim to inform and to provide the opportunity to connect. The most recent event was a luncheon where the Minister of Social Development, Labor and Welfare, Ruthmilda Larmonie-Cecilia, discussed her policy regarding the issuance of work permits, future legislation in this area and other actions that the government is taking to regulate the labor market. The luncheon was well attended by professionals, as well as other interested parties and the press.
The current labor market
The luncheon, which was held in the La Belle Alliance room in the Avila Beach Hotel, gave Minister Larmonie-Cecilia a platform to clarify her policy on several issues related to the labor market as well as receive feedback from professionals who will be effected by future legislation in this area. Although last year has seen a slight decrease in the unemployment rate- from 12.6% in 2014 to 11.7% in 2015- the Minister spoke of a ‘pressing situation.’ The youth unemployment rate remains high at 29.7% in 2015, the percentage of job seekers remaining unemployed for one year or longer is very high (44.5% in 2015) and there is a noticeable increase in the unemployment rate among the highly educated (HBO, WO and postdoctoral level). Two thirds of male job seekers and 60% of female job seekers belong to the unskilled or low skilled worker category. And it is mainly this category that continues to see an increase in foreign national workers.
Past attempts to tackle unemployment
In the past, the government has made several attempts to tackle the persistent high unemployment rate, including introducing the Foreign Nationals Employment Ordinance (Landsverordening Arbeid Vreemdelingen) in 2001. “Given the level of unemployment back then, and to prevent the inflow of foreign workers from neighboring countries – who sought refuge outside of their own borders due to the socio-economic conditions in their county – the government introduced the ordinance”, said Larmonie-Cecilia. The ordinance stipulates that, subject to exceptions, an employer is not allowed to let a foreign national carry out work without a valid work permit. Non-compliance can result in imprisonment of up to three months and/or a fine not exceeding the amount of a hundred thousand guilders.
Moratorium on work permits
Although the minister is of the opinion that the abovementioned ordinance works, she believes that additional action is required by the government to further decrease the unemployment rate. The government issued a moratorium as of May 1st, 2016. This means that for a period of one year no work permits will be issued for unskilled or low-skilled jobs. The Minister of Social Development, Labor and Welfare stressed during her speech that it is the duty of every government to first ensure that the local people are employed. “As a government we must serve the interest of our own people first”, said Larmonie-Cecilia.
The government is currently working on future legislation that is supposed to reinforce the existing legislation and promote an economically viable and socially equitable development in the labor market. The proposed 80/20 regulation is supposed to create job opportunities for locals as opposed to foreign nationals. “The premise of the law is to promote employment opportunities for the local population and potential local workers living, working or studying in the Netherlands, St. Maarten or somewhere outside of the kingdom,” said Larmonie-Cecilia.
In a nutshell, a local employer must have at least 80 percent of the jobs in its company occupied by local workers. Local workers are not only those born on Curaçao with the Dutch nationality, but also children of a father or mother with the Dutch nationality and born in Curacao or those with the Dutch nationality and born on Aruba, Bonaire, Saba, Statia or St. Maarten and has been living in Curaçao before October 10th, 2010. Those who are 18 years or older and have been living in Curaçao for at least five years with the required permits are also considered locals.
In order to facilitate the search for skilled local workers, the government created the job bank ‘Banko di Vakatura’. In the future an employer must list a job vacancy with the job bank first. If the employer is unable to fill the vacancy through the job bank, the employer can start searching beyond our borders for qualified personnel after which the employer can submit a request for a work permit.
At the end of the presentation, the Minister received feedback from the audience resulting in a fruitful debate. Many audience members pointed out that, although they support the premise of the laws and regulations, in practice they make it very difficult to run a profitable business. According to them the high unemployment rate among the locals has little to do with a lack of willingness from employers to hire locals. Rather the work ethics of locals leaves much to be desired. The Minister acknowledged that issue, but pointed out that a change in morals and behavior must be tackled by the community as a whole and not circumvented by hiring foreign nationals. In addition, the Minister said that the proposed law does leave plenty of room for hiring foreign nationals that have qualifications that are locally unavailable in reaction to someone mentioning the cumbersome process if it is known beforehand that the necessary skills are not available locally. “We are extremely proud to have organized such a successful luncheon where the Minister could engage in a specific substantive debate with professionals directly affected by proposed legislation,” said Anuschka Cova, chairman of CIFA.
The Curaçao International Financial Services Association (CIFA) is the representative association of professionals in the international financial services sector of Curacao. The organization acts as a sounding board for and advises the government, regulatory agencies and monetary authorities on issues concerning our international financial services sector. For more information visit www.cifa-curacao.com or www.facebook.com/cifa