Puerto Rico House Approves Pay Equity Bill
SAN JUAN – Moments before Gov. Ricardo Rosselló delivered his first “State of the Commonwealth” message at the House of Representatives, the lower chamber approved Tuesday a bill to create the Puerto Rico Pay Equity Act, which aims to eliminate gender-based wage disparity in the public and private sectors.
House Bill 9, presented by the executive branch, also allows employees to inquire about their co-workers’ salaries without being penalized, and sanctions employers who discriminate against employees because of their sex, unless these present evidence they will change that practice.
The measure was endorsed by the delegations of the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) and the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and it was approvde unanimously, with the absence of Reps. Antonio Soto, Jorge Navarro, Luis “Narmito” Ortiz Lugo, and Luis Vega Ramos, who left the House when he wasn’t allowed to abstain from voting.
Although he favored the bill, Vega Ramos conditioned his vote on the inclusion of an amendment he had supposedly discussed with the New Progressive Party (NPP) majority delegation, but was voted against.
This amendment sought for the act not to affect other legislation that aim to abolish discrimination for other reasons besides biological sex, such as country of origin, sexual orientation or gender identity.
“It is unfortunate that a debate that should generate consensus in Puerto Rico is armed with the possibility of abolishing other previously legislated anti-discrimination protections. I urge the immigrant and LGBTT communities to be wary that a praiseworthy achievement isn’t used to open the doors on other important protections that are already in place,” explained Vega Ramos to Caribbean Business on his decision to present the amendment.
During the measure’s debate, the legislator stated that “protecting pay equity for women isn’t built on destroying other protections in the workplace… We should be ashamed of pitting minorities against each other.”
Upon hearing these declarations, House Vice President Lourdes Ramos denounced: “[Vega Ramos] is the one who should be ashamed for placing obstacles toward pay equity for women… The bill neither amends nor removes any acquired right. Saying that is a lie.”
On another hand, PDP Rep. Manuel Natal said the bill would have been supported if it had established that discrimination wasn’t only considered in hiring and compensation, but also in promotions.
In addition, Natal said it would have been more beneficial if the bill had language about discrimination based on “real or perceived gender”-as laid out in a bill he authored- and not just on “sex,” since gender entails a broader definition and protects more people, including the LGBTT community.
As for abolishing domestic violence and gender discrimination, the representative vouched for the importance of education with gender perspective in schools, “to instill in boys and girls since an early age to value and respect that which makes us equal, but change for what makes us different.”
The House also approved to allocate $5,000 to Canóvanas to carry out “works and permanent improvements.”