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What are the main changes in Rosselló’s ‘Single Employer’ Act?

By on February 6, 2017

In this picture provided by La Fortaleza, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló signs the Single-Employer Act, which centralizes government agencies to ease employee transfers and reduce operational costs. (File Photo)

In this picture provided by La Fortaleza, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló signs the Single-Employer Act, which centralizes government agencies to ease employee transfers and reduce operational costs. (File Photo)

SAN JUAN — Gov. Ricardo Rosselló signed on Saturday the bill that transforms the central government into the single employer of all public agencies, thus becoming Act 8 of 2017, following three public hearings and three weeks of analyses in the Legislature.

This Government of Puerto Rico Human Resources Administration & Transformation Act reforms and centralizes the management of human resources for all instrumentalities under the central government—which includes agencies, public corporations, and municipalities—to allow the mobility of employees to where they are needed most, and foster internal recruiting for vacant posts.

Here are the main changes for the government and public workers under Act 8:

1.  Creates the Government of Puerto Rico’s Office of Human Resources Administration & Transformation (OCALARH)

This entity substitutes the Office of Training and Labor Affairs Advisory and Human Resources (OCALARH by its Spanish initials), and will be charged with unifying the central administration’s classification and compensation plans. In the case of compensation, there will be four, according to employee type: career, union, excluded from unions, and politically appointed, or trust, employee.

The office will create a Negotiation Committee to advise and coordinate conversations regarding the collective-bargaining negotiations in accordance to Act 45-1998.

Besides having an information system on public service in the entire government, it has to update the announcements registry and create a registry of certified and authorized consultants.

On another hand, it eliminates Act 184-2004, which established the Public Service Human Resources Administration Act.

2.  Creates a Human Resources Administration & Transformation System

This represents a unified plan for classification and retribution, with the goal of describing each position in the government in order to group them and establish which of them have the same selection criteria so the post can have the same retribution, regardless of the agency. Plans for career positions and positions of trust will be kept separately.

People may only be hired in positions defined within the plan, taking into consideration their merit, and prioritizing internal recruitment.

3. Exclusions

This law won’t apply to the legislative or judicial branches; public corporations or public-private corporations operating as private businesses; the University of Puerto Rico (UPR); the Governor’s Office; the State Elections Commission; the Government Ethics Office; or municipalities. However, these last two must apply the merit principle, just like in participative public-private alliances (APP+P).

In the case of mobility, it doesn’t apply to teachers or police officers, nor to the governor’s designations that require legislative consent, or trust personnel.

4.  Mobility: transfers, demotions, promotions, and claims

Although the law establishes that OCALARH has one year to create the mobility plans in a accordance to service needs, Chief of Staff William Villafañe said employee transfers will begin April 11.

Among the changes the Legislature included to the law is that mobility must be requested voluntarily by the employee first, taking into consideration the need for service, preparation, experience, time served, place of residence, the worker’s availability, geographic location of the service provision, and collective-bargaining agreements, among others.

This mobility may not infringe on collective-bargaining agreements, as requested by unions. In addition, it will respect fringe benefits and the base salary employees had before the transfer, and it may not be used as a disciplinary measure or be onerous for the employee. However, it won’t be applied during election silence.

Another change included was that employees won’t be subjected to new probationary periods after a transfer, unless involving a promotion. As a general rule, “transfers won’t entail salary increases,” the law states.

Demotions will be made when an employee requests it, when a position is eliminated or when the worker can’t be assigned to a similar post they occupied. They can’t be used as a disciplinary measure either nor made arbitrarily. In the case of a demotion, there could be a salary cut if it is aimed at preventing unemployment.

Workers will have 30 days to file a claim if in disagreement with the mobility to the Public Service Appeals Commission, which won’t halt the process, but will be able to revert it.

5.  If the agency becomes an APP+P 

If there is an agreement to create an APP+P, the law establishes that public workers transferred to the new organization will retain their wages and fringe benefits, unless the employee or union reaches a different agreement. Labor reform won’t apply to them.

6.  Changes for government workers: fewer vacation days and evaluation

OCALARH will create a system to evaluate workers’ performance, taking into consideration their productivity, efficiency, order and discipline. If an employee underperforms, the appointing authority —the agency director with the power to hire— may take disciplinary action: verbal warning, written reprimand, job and salary suspension or dismissal.

If a job position were eliminated, there could be dismissals, but not before exhausting the following options: relocation, retraining, use of accumulated vacation days, unpaid leave, fewer work hours, or demotion.

Sick leaves will be reduced from 15 to 12 days annually, and vacations from 30 to 24 days a year, prospectively. Vacation must be taken in the calendar year, so no fewer than 12 may be taken consecutively. Productivity bonuses and salary increases will also be reduced and limited. Excess vacation days may be used to pay debts with the Treasury Department, among others.

Paternity leave will have a 15-day period after the baby is born. There will also be an hour each workday for breastfeeding mothers (divided into two 30-minute periods) after their maternity leave, which will last eight weeks.

7.  Training with IDEA

Now they will be made throughOCALARH, which will create the Government Workers Training and Professionalization Institute (IDEA by its Spanish acronym), which will make collaborative agreements with public and private universities to expand the offer of educational services to public workers. This entity must create a master plan (PLAN-MA) that organizes and programs professionalization, as well as a scholarship program.

The $400 million public spending in this area is expected to be reduced, but the administration hasn’t said how much the UPR, for example, may charge for this type of training.

8.  Doubts about the law

Among the doubts that have surfaced regarding the legislation is Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Sen. Aníbal José Torres’s, who pointed out uncertainty as to what would happen to public workers after and APP+P agreement ends, since the law doesn’t establish they may return to public service.

Likewise, fellow PDP Sen. Cirilo Tirado stated that in the past, employees who passed on to an APP didn’t keep their benefits in the public sector. He added that there is still doubt regarding who will apply disciplinary sanctions, when will the government is centralized or if salary reductions will be applied to employees.

For his part, Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Senate Minority Leader Juan Dalmau said there could be dismissals under the law.

Meanwhile, PDP Senate Minority Leader Eduardo Bhatia voiced his concern because Labor Secretary Carlos Saavedra said the bill would protect public workers, but when it was presented in the Senate, he said its purpose was to generate savings.

He added that there could be a constitutional clash over leaving on the table the changes in the structure of agencies, which is upt to the Legislative Assembly to determine, not to the executive branch.

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