Monday, June 1, 2020

Puerto Rico Builders Association Concerned About Leave Benefits Measure

By on March 19, 2020

The Puerto Rico Capitol in San Juan (CB photo)

Argues Contractors not in a Position for Outlays; Suggests Use of Gov’t Resources Instead

SAN JUAN — Amid the executive order to close non-essential businesses and the passage of Puerto Rico House Bill 2428, as amended by the Senate, Puerto Rico Builders Association Chairman Alfredo Martínez has written to Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez expressing concern.

“We bring to your attention the serious concern that has arisen in the construction sector and many other productive sectors of our economy, with the approval of House Bill 2428, as amended by the Senate,” the letter reads.

Martínez said that although he hasn’t analyzed the final version of the bill, “we did watch the legislative session.”

“The possible content of said legislation is of great concern,” he assured. “At this time, the construction sector is paralyzed and impeded from producing and operating, due to the immediate implementation of Executive Order 2020-023, [which imposes] a curfew and closing of operations.”

The industry rep stressed that the imposition on employers of having to pay workers five more days, in addition to sick leave, vacation days and any other compensation, “results onerous.”

“It’s very difficult or impossible for certain small or midsize construction enterprises to comply with, at the same time it worsens and complicates the scenario our companies are facing in this emergency,” he added.

House Bill 2428 amends Act 180 of 1998, also known as the Puerto Rico Minimum Wage, Vacation and Sick Leave Act to establish that during state of emergency declarations decreed by the governor or the Health Department secretary, employees who suffer or suspect they are suffering from the disease or epidemic that led to a state emergency declaration, can use accumulated vacation days if the worker has exhausted all sick leave days.

The bill also establishes that workers could take a special, unpaid leave of up to 20 days if they have exhausted all sick leave or vacation days.

However the Senate introduced an amendment establishing a paid five-day leave if the aforementioned benefits have been exhausted.

Martínez said that in the case of small contractors or subcontractors, the measure exacerbates the limited liquidity and “economic scarcity” they are going through, while for other companies, it would result in a serious impact on operations that are impeded by the executive order.

The executive order, he reiterated, is onerous for businesses that are “doing their best to keep their companies and employees afloat amid this complex social and economic situation we live in.”

Martínez argued that association members believe “the imposition of an economic burden like this on the private sector is harmful and contrary to the certified fiscal plans and the goal of improving the climate of doing business in Puerto Rico.” 

The industry representative wrote that contractors “ respectfully request that said legislation be reconsidered, or returned to its respective [legislative] committees for the corresponding evaluation, so that input from the economic sectors” can be obtained.

“Similarly, we exhort that the labor and citizen aid legislation to mitigate the economic and social crisis we are living in, and any reform to our current labor legislation, be evaluated and considered in due time, taking into account the federal legislation that is being considered to compensate and assist citizens in handling this emergency,” the letter reads.

Martínez suggested the allocation of emergency funds and other government resources to assist employees who experience income loss due to the business closures. 

The Builders Association head also requested access to the final version of the bill passed by the Senate to “clarify our concerns” to lawmakers.

“At the Association, we make ourselves available to the Legislative Assembly, in the search of reasonable alternatives that will help us face and overcome this crisis, but without producing greater disruptions and losses to the private sector, which continues to struggle to pull Puerto Rico out of this crisis,” the letter concluded.

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