Natal Seeks to Increase Puerto Rico Minimum Wage
SAN JUAN – While rejecting what he claims is labor reform without supporting data and motivated by private sector interests, Rep. Manuel Natal Albelo will submit legislation this week to increase the minimum wage in Puerto Rico.
The bill intends to establish minimum wage levels according to different industries and their ability to deal with such increases, the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) legislator said in an interview with Caribbean Business.
“This week, I will be submitting legislation to raise the minimum wage in Puerto Rico to make sure no Puerto Rican who works lives below the poverty line,” Natal Albelo explained while emphasizing that “$7.25 [an hour] isn’t enough.”
The representative said that in order to be “consistent in looking at the United States” as an example to establish local public policy, the New Progressive Party (NPP) legislative majority would have to support the initiative. He argued that although many of the workers’ rights are not provided stateside, they offer higher minimum wages than in Puerto Rico.
When asked about how this bill could clash with the vision of both the Promesa fiscal oversight board and the administration of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, Natal Albelo said he responds to the people of Puerto Rico who elected him, “unlike any member of the fiscal control board or of the ‘little board’ we have created with the [Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency & Financial Advisory Authority, or Fafaa] bill.”
Regarding the latter—Senate Bill 211—the PDP representative criticized the control conferred to Puerto Rico’s fiscal agent through the bill, which entrusts the authority with powers to make sure all government entities comply with Promesa.
Natal Albelo also attacked House Bill 451, another fiscal control measure that would freeze collective-bargaining agreements and the University of Puerto Rico’s (UPR) budget formula, as well as extending government austerity measures under Act 66, which he recalled having voted against despite having been endorsed by the majority of his fellow delegates.
As for the first law signed by the governor—a series of amendments to the Public-Private Partnerships Act—the PDP legislator said it lacks transparency both in its approval and its subsequent application, which he says will happen soon.
“It is custom-made for someone, especially for some interests that want to privatize public corporations, particularly the State Insurance Fund,” Natal Albelo said.
He also raised concerns over the fact that the rules of the House of Representatives have been rendered ineffective during recent days, thus opting “to legislate while turning its back on the people, depriving legislators—especially the minority—of their constitutional functions and prerogatives,” the representative .
Reiterates criticism of the labor reform
During the interview, Natal Albelo reiterated his opposition to the labor reform bill submitted by the Rosselló administration, which he said does not “believe in workers’ rights.”
Easing labor laws won’t result in more jobs in Puerto Rico he said. Further still, “it has not been possible to produce a single document or study to demonstrate this correlation,” the representative added.
Caribbean Business asked if there is any element of thebill that is positive or serves as a starting point to address the island’s unemployment problem, to which Natal replied that “if the bill were good,” he would approve it but that’s not the case with this bill. He also called into question the interests of the Private Sector Coalition in promoting the bill, which comprises more than 30 organizations from different sectors and industries in Puerto Rico.
Although he assured that the proponents of the reform should be the ones who must evidence how different claims can be dealt with without unduly affecting workers, the representative said that countries with conditions similar to those in Puerto Rico should be studied. He also proposes to address the exodus of capital and unequal tax treatment given to certain companies in Puerto Rico.
Regarding flexible time—also known as “flexitime”—Natal questioned the constitutionality of what he called the “candy” or “spearhead” of the labor reform submitted by the Rosselló administration.
The representative recalled how during the shared administration of Aníbal Acevedo Vilá the Legislature considered a bill that sought to establish “flexitime” in Puerto Rico.
“This bill received a negative report from the commission evaluating it: the Labor and Industrial Relations Committee chaired at that time by [current House Speaker Carlos] ‘Johnny’ Méndez,” Natal said while ruling that “there is absolutely nothing innovative” about this labor reform.