• The San Juan Daily Star

Governor opposes double pay, elimination of ‘flexi-time,’ in Labor Reform bill

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi

By John McPhaul

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia sent a letter on Sunday to the leaders of the island House of Representatives and the Senate to request amendments to the Labor Reform Bill opposing double pay and the elimination of “flextime.”

“My administration has always sought the balance that is required by promoting changes to strengthen our workforce and, in turn, ensure that the commercial sector, especially small and medium-sized businesses, can continue to create and maintain jobs to contribute to our economic growth,” the governor said in a written statement. “Although many positive aspects of the so-called 2017 Labor Reform can be highlighted, such as additional rights for working mothers and the establishment of flexible work for workers who voluntarily choose to do so, the truth is that there are several aspects that must be reviewed to temper them to the current reality of the Puerto Rico labor market.”

The governor noted that the Legislative Assembly is evaluating several measures that propose amendments to the Labor Reform. In order to seek consensus on the proposed changes, contribute to the legislative process and achieve the approval of a measure that may gain his signature, he said, the governor shared the aspects of the Labor Reform that he considers should be reviewed.

First, he noted the automatic probationary period of nine months for nonexempt employees and 12 months for exempt employees and indicated that a six-month probationary period is more reasonable for both exempt and nonexempt employees.

“This provides uniformity to the administration of human resources and therefore, an amendment to these ends would have my endorsement,” Pierluisi said.

Regarding the Christmas bonus, Pierluisi said “I believe it prudent to amend the Labor Reform to standardize the requirement applicable to all private sector employees in order to be entitled to the payment of the Christmas bonus at 700 hours worked.”

Currently, the Labor Reform requires that employees hired prior to Jan. 26, 2017, work 700 hours to be entitled to the payment of the Christmas bonus. However, employees hired as of that date have to work 1,350 hours to be entitled to the payment of the bonus.

Regarding vacation and sick leave, the governor stressed the importance of all workers having an adequate period of rest.

“In this way, a balance between personal and work life is promoted, which, in turn, results in better productivity. Therefore, he supported the amendment of the Labor Reform to decrease the requirement of hours worked per month in order to accumulate vacation and sick leave. The requirement must be set again at 115 hours per month, Pierluisi said.

“Along the same lines, I support the amendment of the Labor Reform to establish that workers hired as of January 26, 2017 can also accumulate 1.25 days of vacation for each month worked,” he said.

In his letter to the legislative leaders, the governor detailed that those specific amendments address the main concerns that have arisen regarding the changes in the private sector workplace. He added that the amendments aimed at increasing the current pay of time and a half to double pay for time worked in excess of eight hours a day, on rest days and during the meal period, could be harmful for small and midsize companies, so they do not have his endorsement.

Pierluisi also said his administration has implemented a number of measures to benefit workers, among which stand out the staggered increase in the state minimum wage, the increase in credit for work up to a maximum of $6,500 and the increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour on federally funded rebuilding projects.

Meanwhile, the governor said he does not support the elimination of the provisions that allow voluntary agreements for alternate weekly work, or “flexi-time,” agreements for replacement of hours and requests for flexible conditions.

“These provisions did not exist in our legal system prior to the approval of the Labor Reform and have been of special benefit to our workers in times of emergency and during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

The governor went on to say that his work team, as well as Labor and Human Resources Secretary Carlos Rivera Santiago, will be available to discuss the amendments suggested by La Fortaleza and that he hopes that the legislative and executive branches can work in consensus for the benefit of the island’s workers.

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