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House Approves Labor Reform, awaits governor’s signature

By on January 23, 2017

SAN JUAN – The House of Representatives on Monday concurred in a 32-16 vote with the amendments that the Senate included to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s labor reform (House Bill 453). The bill could now be signed into law at any moment.

House Bill 453 now goes to La Fortaleza, where Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is expected to make it law with his signature. The governor was holding talks with the Chamber of Food Marketing, Industry & Distribution (MIDA by its Spanish acronym) along with Economic Development Secretary Manuel A.J. Laboy, discussing strategies to create jobs in Puerto Rico.

With the delegation of the New Progressive Party (NPP) in favor and the opposition of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) and the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), the House gave way to labor law changes that will prospectively leave employees hired in the private sector fewer vacation and sick-leave days, as well as a smaller Christmas bonus. The NPP argues this will make way for the creation of new jobs.

Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Rep. Manuel Natal Albelo took to twitter to express his outrage, calling it a “nefarious labor reform.” Likewise, Rep. Jesús Santa Rodríguez, also from the PDP, stated that “the labor reform will worsen the country’s economic crisis due to its negative impact on the general purchasing power.”

PDP Reps. Manuel Natal and Jesús Santa opposed the labor reform, which they called "labor deform," because they believe it will impoverish the island's working class. (Cindy Burgos / CB)

PDP Reps. Manuel Natal and Jesús Santa opposed the labor reform, which they called “labor deform,” because they believe it will impoverish the island’s working class. (Cindy Burgos / CB)

“We analyzed the House and Senate reports well, and the legislative intention is clear, both to preserve the burden of proof [for unjustified dismissals] that falls upon the employer and, likewise, the voluntariness of ‘flexitime’ [flexible workweek]. We were able to agree because the others are additional safeguards, additional sick-leave days [12 instead of six, as proposed by the executive branch] with which we were not going to have any problems,” House Labor Committe Chairman Ángel Peña explained in an aside with reporters.

Peña explained that among the changes to measure is the permanence of the Closing Law on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The probationary period was also set for nine months for employees and 12 months for executives, as proposed by the Senate.

However, the law could face scrutiny in the future because of ambiguities in the measure and that employees will be separated into two groups with different labor benefits, said PIP Rep. Denis Márquez, who called the labor reform “lousy.”

“Having two different categories…of employment, in terms of claims, I believe is questionable constitutionally under equal protection, of equal pay for equal work criteria,” said Márquez, who also expressed concern about changes in the definition of “just cause” for a dismissal, which could result in an employee being fired for only “looking at the boss wrong.”

For his part, PDP Rep. Manuel Natal, who described the measure as “labor deform,” said the legislation is “harmful to the working class” because it reduces the purchasing power of private employees.

He also labor reform bill shouldn’t be looked at separately from other measures, such as the extension of powers of the Public Private Partnerships Act or the single employer bill, which “give hand the government over to certain interests.” The legislator, however, was excused from the final vote.

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