The proposed cut in benefits for all public employees in connection with sick leaves, vacation, and the Christmas bonus, among other, creates a novel uniform system that in practice repeals the provisions negotiated in collective bargaining agreements, which the administration of governor Ricardo Rosselló maintains would avoid the firing of 45,000 State workers. Such number is, in turn, what the Oversight Board recommends in the hopes of adjusting the budget to the Government’s actual possibilities to collect and spend.
No one doubts the importance of protecting jobs though the disagreements are obvious, specially with the labor unions, on the manner to proceed. The path chosen by the Roselló Administration can be painful to some but in the absence of better proposals, that are concrete and supported by data, it is the one with the highest potential to be viable. Avoiding the fiscal deficit and clearing the path to service the debt calls for, among other needs, adjustments in the public sector which, despite it having shrunk in size, with over 200,000 workers at present, remains the Island’s largest employer, and this will not be possible without structural modifications.
The changes proposed in the bill to create the Fiscal Plan Compliance Law would redress the fiscally irresponsible track record entrenched in a political culture that has sought votes in exchange for benefits and maintaining a bloated government apparatus on borrowed money, something the immense burden of the debt no longer allows.
Should the measure be approved, on the other hand, it would establish the operational infrastructure to put into effect another symbolic law of this Administration, that of the Sole Employer, which offers a legal framework to mobilize the human resource where the need might be determined, but faces the problem posed by the existing disparity in the classification and remuneration plans of agencies. Offices providing services such as security, health, and education, those that hunt for revenues, such as the Treasury and the Municipal Revenue Collection Center (CRIM), and the municipalities through agreements with the central Government would do well to benefit from that mobility.
There are, however, some important holes in the plans, among them, the fiscal impact of the reduction in benefits and how to tackle the process to centralize and unify agencies. The occasion is also propitious to return to the principle of merit and, once and for all, put it to work based performance metrics and criteria of productivity, punctuality, reliability, respectful treatment to the citizenry, and the measurement of goals versus the results of agencies, among others, accompanied by training.
Having said this, it should also be pointed out that for a project this size to be successful, the traditional political discourse and postulates must be adjusted to the Country’s new economic and social realities.
The Government has the dutyto reduce the number of contracts based on political and electoral support-reciprocity criteria which rob it of its moral strength and seriousness about the agenda it seeks to follow. As long as there are contractors who earn exorbitant amounts that are unthinkable to any public employee, the important reform will be undermined even before it starts.
As a general framework, the reform must achieve a structure that is transparent in its implementation where its components are sufficiently balanced to protect those who contribute their labor to forge the Country ahead.
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