Friday, December 13, 2019

Puerto Rico gov makes worker pay, pensions her priority

By on September 25, 2019

(Juan José Rodríguez/CB)

Act 29 also under discussion with fiscal board, says Vázquez, who is also watching Port of San Juan agreement

SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez said in recent media roundtable that one of her priorities is to ensure government workers receive their annual bonus.

Vázquez stressed that the issue of the year-end part of eligible public employees’ salaries—referred to as the “Christmas” bonus because it must be paid between Nov. 15 and Dec. 15 of each year—is one of the discussions underway with the Puerto Rico Financial Oversight and Management Board. 

“I have always said that one of my priorities is for the bonus to be paid. We have had those conversations with the board. Obviously, it’s an additional income for public workers and we want for them to have the opportunity of receiving it,” Vázquez said. “My commitment has been that we will speak with the board about this; I have already presented it to them. So, in the process, and amid the good relationship we have started with the communications with the board, this is being worked on for the people of Puerto Rico so public workers can receive this compensation.”

When asked by Caribbean Business if the funds to be able to pay the bonus have been identified, Vázquez said the administration’s commitment was to determine the way the bonus will be paid, noting that discussion with the board on the matter is ongoing.

Regarding Act 29, which exempts municipalities from paying into the retirement system and contributing to the Health Insurance Administration (ASES by its Spanish acronym), Vázquez said that was yet another issue being discussed with the fiscal board.

“This contribution or income that the municipalities receive is important,” Vázquez assured. “Therefore, it’s one of our priorities, just as the Christmas bonus and the public workers’ pensions. All of those topics are being worked on… I can guarantee to the people of Puerto Rico that we will do everything possible so that all those benefits continue.”

Underscoring that her position is to protect pensions as much as possible, Vázquez said she will be a retired public worker at some point as well. 

“Certainly, my interest is that [pensioners] are not affected; that there are no cuts, and that is part of the conversations” with the board, Vázquez said, adding that “the retirees, the pensioners have conversations with the board. All these elements will be taken into consideration when making a determination. My interest is that there are no cuts and that they are not affected.”

As for the collaborative agreement at the Port of San Juan between Puerto Rico Terminals (PRT) and Luis Ayala Colón under the name Puerto Nuevo Terminals (PNT), Vázquez said that she sent a letter Friday to the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) that made the agency aware of her concern that it could distort competition. 

“I know the FMC is monitoring the development of the agreement closely, but in the meantime, our concern was expressed in the letter.” 

Last week, a group comprising trade and labor organizations, dubbed Junte de Voluntades, asked Vázquez to put a stop to the agreement that allows the cargo companies to operate as PNT.

While Junte de Voluntades claimed the entire operation at the Port of San Juan has been conceded to PNT, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Ports Authority, Anthony Maceira, told Caribbean Business that only the Justice Department would be able to intervene with the new venture, were it to find it in violation of antitrust regulations.

At a press conference last week, Junte de Voluntades spokesman Mark Anthony Bimbela, accompanied by the executive vice president of the Chamber of Food Marketing, Industry & Distribution (MIDA by its Spanish acronym), Manuel Reyes; United Retailers Association (CUD by its Spanish acronym) President Jorge Arguelles; Germán Vázquez, president of the Transportation and Related Branches Union; and other representatives said that under the agreement, PNT would manage about 80 percent of the containers and 11 of the 14 cranes in the Port of San Juan, with the remaining 20 percent of the containers and three cranes managed by Florida-based Crowley Maritime Corp.

Vázquez said that unlike the previous administration, she was letting the FMC know she would object to the collaborative agreement it allowed between the port terminal operators, were it to affect commerce or consumers in terms of competitiveness, reduction of transportation services or increasing costs. 

“According to what I have been informed, under the public policy of the previous governor, no objection was presented before the FMC about the said merger. It is our duty to establish that [our] position is in contrast to the [previous administration’s] and that, certainly, I will promptly address the concerns and complaints about the jurisdiction of the government of Puerto Rico, as well as the scope of the agreement and its implications on consumers and commerce in Puerto Rico,” Vázquez said.

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