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 important, 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 maintain them.
That said, there is never any budget for maintenance. And the janitorial support staffers hold the ancient facilities together, with elbow-grease. Carefully.
In 2015, the notion that these workers should be treated equally surfaced in the Ministry of Education, under the 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 not-for-profit 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 MinEdu, an MB, a ministerial decree, entitling the janitorial support staff to benefits, the same as any other SKOA staffer, 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
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.
Recently, at a press conference the present MinEdu, nixed that arrangement, declaring it unbinding, and threatened to withdraw the MB. He is looking for savings. He cannot afford the bills, he explained.
He picked SKOA, just one of the island’s educational agencies, as a starting point. They run 46 schools, each school with at least 10 classrooms, which are kept clean with the support of 99 janitors/cleaners/security and maintenance people.
In the name of transparency, SKOA gathered its staffers, and informed them, the unions, and their lawyers, of the impending threat.
SKOA Director Anuesca Baly, a passionate professional, explained 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 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.