Informative and Thoughtful Harold D. Malmberg’s notes from the PFTSA Seminar

During the recent PFTSA seminar Harold Malmberg, President and Chairman of the Board of De Palm Tours addressed the forum, congregating for an informative afternoon at the Holiday Inn Sunspree. Malmberg, one of the island’s visionary pioneers and entrepreneurs commented on the Mandatory Pension law which will be coming into effect on January 1st, 2012, and will enforce saving for old age with the participation of the employee and the employer.

Malmberg began his discourse informing his audience as to the reasons why his company became a founder of the Aruba Hotel and Tourism Association Pension Fund. It all started, he explained, with a very close relative, who left Lago Oil & Transport Company after 25 years of service, with a pension of US$ 58.00 per month.

Shortly thereafter, the closing of the refinery in 1985 followed a result of which De Palm Tours started receiving job applications from among the laid-off workers. What particularly drew Malmberg’s attention was the fact that many job-seekers were either close to, or older than 60. Many had worked for the refinery for more than 30 years. But they all reported they could not survive on their pension averaging 100 florin per month and that the AOV allowance sponsored by the government was not enough either. When asked if they had saved anything during their 30 years of employment, very few answered positively.

The realization that there was a real need for a pension fund, inspired the Malmberg family, as they felt a moral obligation to take an initiative and assist employees with saving for old age. After Lago’s departure tourism became the only economic pillar, until the consequent reopening of the refinery under new ownership. As tourism development accelerated and more hotels were built in a short period of time, Rory Arends, then at the head of AHATA, and Anselmo Pontilius, also found the establishment of a Pension Fund important. The core founding team recruited more believers, with other AHATA Board Members such as Willy Cramer and Ed Malone, coming on board.

It gives me great pleasure, says Malmberg to see how successful the fund is, among the first in the Caribbean, and our tourism industry voluntarily embraced it and made it work.

Needless to say, at De Palm Tours, some young employees voiced objections to saving, which had to be overcome. Younger workers did not see a need for a Pension Fund and refused to look down the road, ahead into the future.  Some even claimed that they would die young and others just nipped the idea of saving in the bud. Thus the only solution was to make it mandatory for all employees, force workers of all ages to join the fund when entering De Palm Tour’s service.

Older employees also voiced objections. They told the company that they were too old and did not have enough time available to accumulate a reasonable amount of money to carry them through old age, so most of them refused to join. Others claimed that they had saved on their own for their retirement and did not need to join the fund. As the company asked for proof of savings, it caused unfortunate arguments. Eventually, workers at De Palm Tours agreed on an age that would absolve mandatory membership, and those older than that age were released from joining the fund. The younger ones fell under the mandatory rule.

Meanwhile as time went by, Malmberg explains, several of De Palm Tours employees already reached the age of pension and are collecting theirs, which in conjunction with AOV gives them a reasonable income.

The company also has older employees who are now on pension, who never joined the plan, because of their high age. Those were kept on the payroll for the rest of their lives as company-sponsored “pensionados”. Most of them have worked for De Palm Tours for 30 + years and have been through good and bad times. The company is very proud of their achievement, and is holding on to them, Malmberg stated.

In closing his address at the pension fund seminar Malmberg reiterated: “I am in full support of the law, because it is morally the right thing to do!”

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November 30, 2011
Rona Coster