The Puerto Rico Capitol during a June 2020 protest against the administration of former Governor Wanda Vázquez.
Photo: RICARDO ARDUENGO / . / .
By Javier Colón Dávila
Tonight the Senate loudly approved the bill that establishes public policy the periodic review of the island’s minimum wage based on the increase in the cost of living and includes an increase to $ 9.00 an hour in Puerto Rico.
The current minimum wage in the territory is $ 7.25 the time and it has not been adjusted since 2009. Since it was approved with amendments, the House of Representatives needs to concur with the changes or decide to go to a conference committee.
Governor Pedro Pierluisi has said he is inclined to turn the bill into law if it reaches your desk.
State minimum wage will prevail over federal
House Bill 338 provides, for example, that the state minimum wage on the island will prevail as long as it is higher than the federal minimum wage. Likewise, the legislative piece creates the Minimum Wage Evaluation Board.
The project is authored by the representatives Héctor Ferrer Santiago, Ramón Luis Cruz Burgos, Jesús Manuel Ortiz, Juan José Santiago and Domingo Torres García.
In the Senate, the measure was worked out by Juan Zaragoza and José Vargas Vidot.
Measure to tackle high levels of poverty on the island
“By achieving this approval we are on the right track to alleviate the poverty level and adjust the minimum wage to the cost of living from the workers. The Senate Finance and Government Commission amended said Bill to restore the Minimum Wage Board. This Board will act as an independent entity, with technical capacity that will have the power to increase the minimum wage in a staggered manner every two (2) years, to ensure that the minimum wage is adjusted to the increases in the cost of living of all working classes. With this great step, we will be depoliticizing the determination of what the minimum wage will be, ”said Zaragoza Gómez in written statements.
Legislation establishes the Minimum Wage Board
“It is important to emphasize that our proposal includes a base salary (not final) from which to start and that responds to the immediate need for a raise. In addition, the most important part of this measure is the restitution of the Minimum Wage Board, which will be a constant forum for discussion, investigation and response. This measure encourages work and it’s people-centered, having enough to meet their basic needs. In addition, it allows us to respond immediately to the constant demand for an increase in the minimum wage and not to spend, again, 12 years to receive another increase, ”added Senator Vargas Vidot.
That no one who works full time is below the poverty level
“The decision on what the minimum wage will be cannot be in the hands of political or private interests. Second, there must be a conscious goal about the purpose of having a minimum wage as a priority. In our opinion, the main objective of public policy to adopt a minimum wage is that no one who works full time is below the poverty level and that all workers have enough income to cover their basic needs ”, reads the positive report of measure rendered by three committees of the Senate.
Salary increase does not apply to government employees
Regarding the increase to $ 9.00, the measure establishes that it would begin 120 days after the new law enters into force and until the proposed Minimum Wage Evaluation Board issues -if applicable- a decree varying it. The minimum wage will be increased to that amount for workers covered by the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, including employees in the agricultural industry who are currently exempted from the application of said law. The increase to $ 8.50 would not apply to employees of government agencies, instrumentalities, municipalities, the Judicial Branch and the Legislative Branch.
They would apply “special” decrees to so-called “administrators”, “executives” and “professionals” and to employees who depend on tips and agricultural employees. However, the initial increase of $ 9.00 would apply to workers in the agricultural sector.
Currently 29 states and the District of Columbia have a minimum wage higher than the federal. The remaining states are divided as follows: 14 states that are governed by the federal minimum, two states have a permit from the federal government to have a lower than federal minimum, and five states do not have an established federal minimum wage.
The project creates the Minimum Wage Evaluation Board, which will operate with funds from the Department of Labor and Human Resources. The body will be made up of seven people, of which two will represent the interests of the workers, two representatives of the employers, an economist presented by the Institute of Labor Relations of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), another will be an expert economist in labor matters recommended by the Department of Economy of the Río Piedras campus of the UPR.
The Secretary of Labor and Human Resources, who will preside over it, will also form part of the Board.
The representatives of the interests of the workers will be appointed by the governor from a list recommended by two or more workers’ organizations. Once appointed by the governor, they would require authorization from the Senate.
In the case of representatives of the interests of employers, they will also be appointed by the governor of a list of associations and groups whose members represent the interests of industries and businesses. These representatives must also be confirmed by the Senate.
The Board’s duties outlined in the measure include: prepare an annual report regarding wages, hours, benefits, salaries and the working conditions that prevail in the different industries in Puerto Rico.