Hot Potato, an old issue resurfaces

The Minister of Education left office. His last move was to swing by the prosecutor’s office and leave him a hot potato, an issue that has been simmering for five years with no resolution that according to the frugal outgoing minister is a violation of trust and wasteful use of public funds.

Let’s see if the issue will be resolved now, it has been making the rounds between MinPres, the minister of Labor and the minister of Education, they have been kicking it around, from desk to desk.

We’re talking about 99 members of the Janitorial Support Staff.

Before 2015, the janitorial support staff in charge of wiping door knobs, cleaning lavatories, and picking up after students in schools on the island, were paid a minimum hourly wage, no benefits, take it or leave it.

Let’s be honest, it’s a thankless job, but truly an important one, keeping viruses at bay, and school-yards safe.

Imagine, cleaning up every day after hundreds of kids, in dozens of schools.

Take for example SKOA, the catholic education agency here. Some of their schools are a CENTURY old. While the real-estate belongs to the church, headquartered in Curacao, the local agency, a not for profit foundation, subsidized by GOA, was given the right to use the buildings, and naturally, the obligation to maintain them.

That said, there is never any budget for maintenance. And the janitorial support staffers hold the ancient facilities together, with elbow-grease, and spit.

In 2015, the notion that these workers should be treated equally surfaced in the Ministry of Education, under the former-former minister. It was a social idea whose time has come.

Why should these hard-working people who aren’t government employees, but are employed by the foundation, be treated differently?

Why have they been discriminated against?

The idea fermented and finally a team of legal experts presented a paper to the Minister of Education, an MB, a ministerial decree, entitling the janitorial support staff to benefits, the same as any other SKOA staffers, be it teacher or administrator.

Thus the Janitorial support staff has enjoyed the regular government benefits for almost five years.

They received a cost of living adjustment

15 vacation days

ATV days, some more free time, in lieu of salary increases

Bi-annual teeth cleaning

New glasses every two years

Medical insurance

Child allowances

Most importantly, a pension arrangement with APFA, the preferred plan on the island.

Their salary remained minimal, about Awg 1,800 a month, but the benefits eased the pain, they were able to get by, and with a steady SKOA job had access to the cut-throat financial institutions where they could apply for tiny loans at murderous interest rates, but at least they had access to credit.

From the very start of his ministry Armando Lampe has nixed that arrangement, declaring it unbinding, and threatened to withdraw the MB. He was looking for savings, and realized the expense was unlawful, besides, SKOA couldn’t afford it: In order to pay benefits to these 99 workers, SKOA stopped paying taxes — SVB, AOW, LB, etc., and is now in arrear, 9 months.

One day BEFORE the election, a correspondence between SKOA and the department of education was made public. Who made it public? And why?

The correspondence provided the outgoing minister with the proof that both sides were withholding information and that they all knew they were violating the law, but did not have the wish to do anything about it.

Lampe then headed to the prosecutor’s office with damning evidence of misuse of public funds.

SKOA, one of the island’s educational agencies, runs 46 schools, each school with at least 10 classrooms, which are kept clean with the support of the above hard working 99 janitors/cleaners/security and maintenance people.

Something now needs to give. Fire, and pay minimal severance pay? Rehire at minimum wages no benefits? Outsource the cleaning to a professional commercial outfit?

Money. Can SKOA afford severance-pays?

On the other hand, SKOA Director Anuesca Baly, a passionate professional, explains that education is an investment, in the future of this country, and we cannot make unreasonable cuts in health and/or safety, and/or education. SKOA did not just start paying its janitorial support staff frivolously. It was a carefully thought out legal document drawn by lawyers at the department of education that instructed the department of finance to make payments, the wheels of history cannot be turned back.

The antiquated schools, require their hygiene-guardians, the first line of defense against disease. If we can’t pay them adequately, the least we can do is allow them some benefits.

ACCOUNTING HOCUS POCUS: My friends explain to me that since the janitorial staff is booked as PERSONNEL expense, it is eligible for benefits, but if booked as OPERATIONAL EXPENSES, ZERO benefits apply.

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July 12, 2021
Rona Coster