House Labor Affairs Committee VP Defends Rosselló’s Labor Reform
SAN JUAN — The vice president of the House Labor Affairs Committee, Michael Abid Quiñones Irizarry, defended Monday the recently approved labor reform (H.B. 453), assuring that the bill seeks job creation without stripping benefits from current employees.
“This law is aimed at creating jobs. We have to be clear on how the current labor market stands. From January 2013 until November last year Puerto Rico lost 30,000 jobs. In 2013, then-Gov. Alejandro García Padilla promised that under the ‘Jobs Now Act’ [Act No. 1-2013], which granted energy credits worth millions to the big companies, 50,000 new jobs would be created,” stated the legislator.
The New Progressive Party (NPP) representative for District 22—which comprises the municipalities of Utuado, Lares, Adjuntas and Jayuya—emphasized the reform’s benefits, starting with nearly doubling unemployment benefits, from $133 to $240 a week, implementing public policy for breastfeeding mothers who are working part-time, and introducing the “Reasonable Accommodation” provision related to attending religious services.
“The reform acknowledges the rights of breastfeeding mothers who work part-time so they have a 30-minute breastfeeding period every four hours. This decree was part of a Senate bill filed in 2015 by Sens. María de Lourdes Santiago [Puerto Rican Independence Party], Rossana López [Popular Democratic Party], and Itzamar Peña [NPP]; all of them were fighting for that and it is now done. It is great progress for the island’s working women,” he said.
Quiñones irizarry added that as of now, the bill’s amendments establish parameters to protect workers’ rights. For example, it reduced the original probational period of 18 months to 12 months, as well as up to one year of imprisonment, or a $5,000 fine, to employers who fire employees to recruit new ones under the law.
He explained that the House also approved the Reasonable Accommodation provision, which allows employees to attend religious services on Sundays. Also, a public policy was introduced in favor of mediation in order to ease conflict resolutions and for the employee not to incur in expenses. In addition, the measure was amended to give the secretary of Labor the discretion to increase the wage base on which employers calculate unemployment benefits.
“All these changes…are made to boost job creation, for our people to have jobs and to prevent them from leaving Puerto Rico…,” he argued.
The NPP official insisted that the House will oversee the law’s enforcement and will periodically evaluate all its decrees to make changes, if necessary.
“Our [House] speaker, Carlos ‘Johnny’ Méndez Núñez was emphatic: The Labor & Human Resources Department will have to present an annual report to the House, detailed and with official data, about the act’s progress and the jobs it has created. We will look out for workers and their families above all else here,” he stated.