Puerto Rican Independence Party demands governor present data to back new labor proposals
SAN JUAN – While in Puerto Rico the Day for the Abolition of Slavery was celebrated, leaders of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) denounced Thursday that a second labor reform announced Wednesday by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló condemns the working class to “modern slavery.”
From party headquarters in San Juan, PIP electoral commissioner Maria de Lourdes Santiago demanded government transparency and to disclose information that explains how the proposed changes will affect the island, including its impact on Treasury’s sales and use tax (IVU by its Spanish acronym) revenue.
“If they don’t want to address the principles of social justice and equity as a minimum, the State is then obliged to present in dollars and cents to the country, firstly, what the effect of the elimination of the Christmas bonus will be; how many workers will be affected; exactly how much money will stop entering the country’s economy during the Christmas period,” the pro-independence leader said.
She further said that Rosselló’s proposal will aggravate outmigration, which increased greatly since Hurricane Maria struck the island in September. “Nobody wants to stay in a country where labor measures are designed to cut benefits,” she added.
“Every time in the last 20 years a measure has been presented that hurts people who have less, that measure is imposed with the promise that this will be the remedy for the crisis,” the PIP senator went on to say, adding that those measures have never been accompanied by data that support their imposition.
Santiago urged workers to be “vigilant of what’s coming,” as many thought that government austerity measures would only affect the public sector, but the new labor reform upsets the private sector.
Governor aligns with board orders
Rep. Denis Márquez, PIP’s spokesperson in the House of Representatives recalled that the island’s fiscal oversight board issued a letter Feb. 5, in which it recommended the government reduce worker benefits. It requested changes to vacation and sick leave, as well as establishing that the Christmas bonus is given at the discretion of the employer.
“The labor reform approved [in January 2017] already destroyed and impinged upon dozens of labor rights. And this one–if the first one’s focus [and] the proposal was aimed at young people, people who were looking for work, people who had just graduated–this one is aimed at all the employees who work in Puerto Rico,” he said.
Márquez stressed that the Labor Transformation and Flexibility Act the governor signed more than a year ago in a laundromat on Loíza Street reduced vacation leave to 12 days a year, after 15 years of work, and that the Christmas bonus would be paid only after 1,350 hours worked.
The new changes proposed by Rosselló, at the request of the fiscal board, reduce vacation and sick leave to seven days each, for a total of 14 days a year. It also proposes to eliminate the Unjust Dismissal Act (Act 80) so employers can dismiss an employee without cause and not be forced to offer monetary compensation.
“The protection of Act 80 is the only mechanism left for the worker in Puerto Rico in an unjustified dismissal, in the event of dismissal,” the lawmaker said. “Act 80, which was what little the working class had remaining, they now seek to eliminate it.”
Senate PIP spokesman Juan Dalmau declared that his party “strongly repudiates” the proposals of the governor who, in his opinion, “repeat the same failed formulas of the past.”
“There is no doubt that this announcement responds to the designs of the fiscal control board,” Dalmau added. “The reality is that what the governor is handing over to the fiscal control board are measures to reduce government spending at the expense of the workers and to be able to pay the bondholders.”
Like countless people who have turned to social media to repudiate the proposed benefit cuts at a time when a $450,000 salary was announced for a new member of Rossello’s cabinet, Dalmau said the governor “has two messages for two Puerto Ricos,” one for a group “elites” and another for the masses.