Caretaker Minister of Tourism Economic Affairs Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Stuart Johnson announced there would be no mandatory shop closure this St. Maarten/St. Martin Day.

The measure is traditionally used as means to promote social cohesion within families and the community by encouraging people to spend spiritually significant holidays such as Christmas Day and Good Friday together. At times it was proclaimed for New Year’s Day too; however, this has become much less the case lately.

The latter is also true for St. Maarten/St. Martin Day, often because of the need to rebound from setbacks including the impact of tropical weather systems or events abroad with a major impact on travel and the local hospitality industry like the 9/11 terrorist attack on the US. Two cruise ships will be in port on Monday, November 11, and one can hardly deny that the island and its tourism economy are again in a position of continued recovery from the damage inflicted by Hurricane Irma 26 months ago.

Moreover, exemptions introduced over the years for stores in the harbour, airport and resorts, bars and restaurants, gas stations, bakeries, drugstores, etc., have limited the effect of the mandatory business closure. Instead of prohibiting other businesses from opening, it would be better to focus on enforcing the existing labour laws regarding public holidays.

Not only must employees get extra pay, but working on those days should in principle be purely voluntary, so those who prefer not to cannot be punished in any way. Of course, these matters – as with all personnel relations – are best pre-arranged in a reasonable and fair manner.

People ought to remember that the employer also has the option not to open if, for example, the expected earnings don’t outweigh the added salary and remaining expenses. Not making them keep their doors closed with thousands of visitors in town under the current circumstances is a good move.