Union leaders: Labor Reform substantially reduced rights of workers

By John McPhaul

The House Committee on Labor Affairs and Transformation of the Pension System for a Dignified Retirement, chaired by the Rep. Domingo Torres García, continued public hearings Thursday in which House Bill 3, which seeks to repeal and transform Law 4 of 2017, also known as the Labor Reform, was discussed.

The public hearing included testimony from Víctor M. Villalba Rodríguez, president of the Federation of Private Company Workers and a member of the executive committee of the Puerto Rican Workers Central (CPT by its Spanish initials), who directly endorsed the bill to repeal the Labor Transformation and Flexibility Law.

“In recent years we have seen how the quality of life of men and women workers in the private sector has been affected in relation to these changes that they made to labor laws,” Villaba Rodríguez said. “The so-called ‘Labor Reform’ undermines the rights of the working class as the main government strategy to promote the creation of jobs that, incidentally, still has not been established by any metric of job creation.”

The union leader said that through collective bargaining he has realized “that some employers’ law firms have taken advantage of the negotiation table to try to impose those changes to labor laws.”

He also shared several concerns that have arisen based on conversations with numerous trade union organizations, “related to the fact that it may be established by law so that, in those instances in which natural disasters or pandemics occur, such as what we now suffer, it is established that wages and benefits that marginalized workers enjoy right now cannot be reduced.”

The presentation given by Villalba Rodríguez and signed by CPT President Emilio Nieves Torres said that “Law 4 of 2017 responded exclusively to a sector of the business class that for years has requested the repeal of rights and worker benefits under the guise of expanding operations and expanding the workforce.”

“They are unfulfilled promises in which profits are generated for those employers and more exploitation of workers,” it said.

“With a labor participation [rate] that does not exceed 40%, [the law] cannot penalize or see a reduction of workers who are the ones that move the engine of our economy,” Nieves Torres said in a written statement on the rights and working conditions that will return with the repeal of the Law 4. “Therefore, we endorse this bill that restores the eight-hour work days in a 24-hour period, the agreement between employees and employer for alternate and optional schedules, double pay in excess of eight hours worked, a period to take meals, sick leave (one day per month), vacation leave (1.25 days per month) and a three-month probationary period.”

Meanwhile, Carlos Ríos Pierluisi, a legal adviser to the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC by its Spanish acronym), submitted a two-page presentation limited to recommending to the committee that it request comments on the measure from the Department of Labor and Human Resources (DTRH by its Spanish initials), but Reps. Torres García, Luis Pérez Ortiz, Denis Márquez Lebrón, Deborah Soto Arroyo and Mariana Nogales Molinelli agreed to again cite DDEC Secretary Manuel Cidre Miranda.

“I believe that Secretary Cidre has a lot to answer for,” Torres García said. “He will be cited again.”

The committee chairman added that the DTRH secretary will be among those to be invited later.

“I invite you to question the departments of Labor and Economic Development and have them explain in detail what the benefits, if any, the so-called Labor Reform has produced,” Villaba Rodríguez said.

Finally, Nogales Molinelli, the minority leader for the Citizen Victory Movement, pointed out that “labor reform” was promoted and recommended by the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board.

“Here we have to avoid falling into the so-called fatigue society that enslaves workers and laborers,” she said. “It is important to defend the right to a break. We know that when a person is healthy and well rested he or she can be more productive.”

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