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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Gov’t agencies voice doubts about proposal for 4-day workweek

Deponents Diocelyn Rivera, Naihomy Álamo and Heriam Martínez are seen during Wednesday’s Senate hearing.

By The Star Staff

During a public hearing of the Senate Human Rights and Labor Affairs Committee, several government agencies related to human resources voiced reservations with regard to Senate Bill 1143 and Senate Resolution 394, which propose to reduce the working hours of public employees without an accompanying salary reduction.

“The purpose of the measure is that we see the possibility of offering our employees a four-day week without salary reduction. What the government currently has is a reduction in working hours and a reduction in wages,” said the chairwoman of the committee, Sen. Ana Irma Rivera Lassén. “This measure speaks of a pilot plan that would be up to the OATRH [Office of Administration and Transformation of Human Resources, by its Spanish initials] to see the viability and convenience not of what is, but of what could be. … This is being seen in many parts of the world and apparently is yielding good results.”

During her presentation, Diocelyn Rivera of the OATRH said that “in the area of the Uniform Classification and Compensation Plan of the Puerto Rico government, even when the legal basis under which it is proposed we develop a pilot plan so that certain employees can work and complete a workweek of four days and 32 hours without salary reduction, it would not be consistent with the current legal system because it affects the uniformity in the implementation of the Uniform Classification and Compensation Plan and the constitutional principles of equal protection of the laws and equal pay for equal work, and therefore we do not favor the bill.”

Given this, Rivera Lassén asked what would be the specific concerns around the implementation of a pilot plan to evaluate what would be the benefits, if any, of a reduced workweek without reducing wages. The witness said that “we are not rejecting what is proposed, but we are inclined to evaluate the proposal because, as it is filed, it must be evaluated in order to implement some type of analysis.”

“We reiterate our help in making that analysis,” Rivera said.

Similarly, Gustavo Cartagena, also of the OATRH, said the office is open to the analysis of the measure, but stressed that the possibility that it leads to an increase in costs must be reviewed. He also established that another analysis that must be carried out is regarding the services to citizens, which could be affected.

In his turn, Heriam Martínez of the Office of Management and Budget said the “measure as drafted in the pilot plan has no budgetary impact, but the analysis cannot be isolated.”

Along the same lines, Naiomy Álamo, on behalf of the Department of Labor and Human Resources (DTRH by its Spanish initials) expressed reservations about the proposal’s fiscal impact.

“The proposal of this bill reduces the working week in the public service without salary reduction, which could have a fiscal impact. Article 204 l of the ‘Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act’ (PROMESA) requires certification of the fiscal impact of each law and its consistency with the Fiscal Plan,” Álamo said.

The deponent also noted that Law 8-2017 contemplates measures to reduce working hours as an action to avoid layoffs since, ordinarily, they represent savings for the central government.

“Likewise, voluntary reductions in working hours are allowed at the request of the public employee by agreement with his employer in which the employee can benefit from a four-day week and earn 80 percent of his gross remuneration,” Álamo said.

Meanwhile, the official clarified that the DTRH administers the pertinent labor legislation in the private sector of Puerto Rico, “so this bill is not within the matters under the jurisdiction of expertise of our agency.”

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