Regardless of the agreement between the Oversight Board and La Fortaleza, and the rejection of the unions, the Senate approved yesterday in a partisan vote (21-9) the bill to repeal the Unjust Dismissal law (Law 80), but with an amendment to only apply prospectively to newly recruited employees.
While discussing the bill in the Senate, the Board´s spokesman, José Luis Cedeño, warned, in written statements, that the measure "is inconsistent with the understanding reached with the government".
Likewise, the Secretary of Public Affairs and Public Policy at La Fortaleza, Ramón Rosario Cortés, warned that the amendment approved by the Senate was also rejected by the Board when proposed by the governor.
"It is not a question of whether we (the Executive) do not agree. We, as an administration, did not want to change Law 80. This is what we give in order to get all the rest," he said.
The measure approved yesterday in the Senate has to be endorsed by the House and signed by Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares to become law.
Change of position
After initially expressing his strong opposition to the repeal of Law 80, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, warned several days ago that he was willing to vote in favor of the bill if it was amended to have prospective implementation.
The bill was also amended yesterday to take effect immediately and not on January 1, 2019.
Rivera Schatz defended the amendment to Law 80 saying that they were seeking "balance" and "avoid greater damage".
"We try to remove from the picture the idea that workers rights differ in the public or private sector,” he said. "There has to be no uncertainty neither in the government nor in the private sector".
On the other hand, Rivera Schatz refused having given in when he argued that Law 80 was not repealed. He also accused the Board of putting "Puerto Ricans against Puerto Ricans", when conditioning the Christmas bonus or vacation and sick leave to repealing Law 80.
"It was a Board´s request. And the first thing that the president of the Board (José Carrión) did not do was coming here to defend the measure," the Senate President said.
In defending his vote in favor, New Progressive Party Senator Miguel Romero argued that the "easy" and "friendly" position was to defeat the measure.
"That way we only looked good to the public eye, but pleasing the public opinion is not necessarily the best thing for the people of Puerto Rico," he said when he took the floor in the debate.
Romero insisted that the amended measure challenges the Board´s intentions, seeking to repeal and not amend Law 80.
"We have to think about Puerto Rico, and keep the door open to dialogue," insisted Romero, stressing that workers are now covered by Law 80.
"We want to open the space so that these accumulations, that possibility of receiving a compensation, remains," he added, referring to the more than 800,000 private sector employees.
His counterpart Henry Neumann voted in favor, despite the fact that he said he has "a conflict" with the measure. He noted that with his support he is giving the benefit of the doubt to the agreement between the governor and the Board.
The PPD votes against
For the spokesman of the Senate Popular minority, Eduardo Bhatia, the legislation passed yesterday does not make sense.
"It's like someone shooting at the sky and without any idea of where the bullet is going to fall," Bhatia said, recalling that the Senate does not have information, even from the Board, that proves that the repeal of Law 80 will generate economic activity.
"A company is going to hire a young man in the future, but as they can lay him off anytime they like, they are not going to invest in training that employee or in anything associated to employees. This has nothing to do with debt or bankruptcy. It's bad public policy," Bhatia said, noting that none of the senators submitted the measure before being discussed on the floor.
"There are no statistics that justify this change. They are discriminating against young Puerto Ricans and it is unconstitutional," he said.
Meanwhile, Popular senator Cirilo Tirado criticized Rivera Schatz´s sudden change of position. "They bark and bark, but they do not bite," exclaimed Tirado, accusing the Board and the executive for trying to blackmail the legislators.
"In Puerto Rico, there are 800,000 employees in the private sector. They are your children, your grandchildren," he said.
"They are fostering social inequality with this decision. Men and women, based on this law, will not be the same at work. Before a woman of reproductive age or pregnant, what will the employer do? He's going to hire the man," he said.
Independence senator Juan Dalmau Ramírez stated, meanwhile, that the measure approved yesterday is part of a vision of the Board that only enacts "penalizing measures".
"There has not been a single measure in which there is a balance between taxes to foreign companies, small and medium-sized businesses... everything the Board has promoted arise from the neoliberal philosophical vision," he said. "It is the virtue of selfishness to promote that there are human beings who are simply superior and who do not care about other interests than their own."
Dalmau Ramírez recalled how the measure also affects employees of government agencies and public corporations in the process of being privatized. He noted that as many of these public workers will become employees of the private sector, in new jobs, they would not be protected by Law 80.
"This is the equivalent of Law 7 in the private sector. The floodgates open," he complained.
Today, the House will send its own version of the bill to the Government Commission for evaluation, said the majority spokesman, Gabriel Rodríguez Aguiló, who insisted that, even with the amendment, he opposes the measure.
Gloria Ruiz Kuilan collaborated with this story.
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