The government of Curaçao was assisted successfully by a team of lawyers of VanEps Kunneman VanDoorne in two public service cases. In both cases customs officers employed by the customs of Curaçao complained about the determination of their financial position by the government. The body of facts in these cases can be described almost identically.
Based on the 1999-2002 coalition agreement and the corresponding emergency programme, the then government decided that a new structure of all national services was required in order to arrive at a more efficient and more effective structure of the national government. In this respect the National Ordinance Organisation National Government took effect on 1 January 2002. This National Ordinance describes the new structure of the national government, also referred to as the ‘New Government’. Parallel to the restructuring of all national services, the customs of Curaçao, then still the Inspectorate of Customs and Excise Duties, was also restructured. In the context of the implementation of the New Government it was decided that all existing positions within the government of the Netherlands Antilles would be described and assessed, with 1 January 2002 as the reference date. This also applied to all positions within the then Inspectorate, however within a separate statutory framework that would only apply to them.
The integration of the customs officers at Curaçao was eventually formalised in individual national decrees, also referred to as integration decrees. Amongst other things, these integration decrees establish the remuneration of the customs officers in question over the period from 2002 up to and including 2012. The said integration represented the final step in a complicated and protracted restructuring process of the customs.
The customs officers objected ‘collectively’ to the integration decrees because they were of the opinion that they were entitled to a higher remuneration. In both cases the customs officers came away empty-handed. They then objected to the decision on the objection in legal proceedings. The court neither concurred with the objections of the customs officers and in both cases it held that the said objections were unfounded in full. It played a role in the decision of the court that a different statutory scheme applies to the customs officers than to the other public sector employees and that their legal positions can therefore not be deemed to be equivalent.