Kralendijk- There is still much unclear about the economic support package for entrepreneurs on the BES islands affected by the Corona crisis.
An explanation provided last Friday by Eric Brakke (head of the RCN unit SZW) about the emergency measures during a Press Conference organized by the Government of Bonaire, led more questions than answers for entrepreneurs on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. Especially the fact that employees, for whose salary payments subsidy is requested from RCN, will need to be send home for the duration of the subsidy, has led to great concerns.
The obligation to send employees home most probably arises from decision by the Kingdom Government to use the existing Sickness Benefit scheme. While the need to use existing legislation can be understood, this does not make the proposed setup either practical or very helpful for that matter.
The proposed package poses many tourism entrepreneurs for an enormous dilemma: either continue to pay employees out of their own pocket – for which there is no money – or use the benefits of the economic support package but subsequently be unable to deploy the staff. “Who keeps my hotel clean or who provides security during this period without any guests if I have to send all employees home?” asked one hotelier who was consulted about the proposed measures. In many hotels, the income in the meantime has dwindled to next to nothing.
The scheme for the small entrepreneurs also raises questions. For instance, employees are eligible for 80% of their regular wages (up to a maximum of $3,173 per month), but self-employed workers can only claim 80% of the minimum wage. The proposed measures therefore lead – possibly unintentionally – to enormous income differences for those who are employed by an employer and those who are self-employed.
An employee with a salary of 2500 dollars per month can, under the emergency package, count with an income of 2000 dollars per month in gross income. A self-employed person who normally earns the same amount will however only be able to count on about 760 dollars per month on Bonaire, 919 dollars on St. Eustatius and 907 dollars on Saba.
It is a big question mark if self-employed people or small entrepreneurs people can meet their monthly obligations with these amounts, and still have money left to purchase any food for themselves and their family.