|The government of Puerto Rico is rolling out a series of tax cuts and special subsidies to rescue its tourist industry, which has been badly battered by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Gov. Sila Calderón has also announced in recent days additional measures to aid other sectors of the island's weakening economy. Tourism industry leaders welcomed the steps with undisguised joy. The tourist industry incentives include the purchase, by the government, of 10,000 airplane tickets to distribute to hotels and the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau. The government-purchased tickets will be used to create low-cost packages to lure tourists and convention travelers back to the island.
Calderón has also announced she was increasing a tax rebate for hotels and airlines for their electricity costs, from 11 percent to 31 percent of costs. Jet fuel taxes will be cut by 50 percent, hotel room taxes will be cut 50 percent, and the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. is giving hoteliers $1.1 million in salary subsidies to rehire 300 employees they have laid off. The industry slashed 1,700 jobs in the weeks following the terrorist attacks.Those measures will cost $11 million, which is a small hit on the commonwealth's huge budget. A separate step the commonwealth is undertaking will prove much more costly in political support.
On Oct. 5, Economic Development and Commerce Secretary Ramón Cantero Frau disclosed in a speech to members of the Federal Bar Association that the government was seeking to pass legislation that would allow employers to schedule their employees on split shifts and restructure work weeks, such as employees working four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days.
The so-called 'flexi-time" proposals have been sought unsuccessfully for years by Puerto Rican businesses, particularly in tourism and manufacturing. The labor laws require, for instance, that employers must give their workers a one-hour lunch break between the 3rd and 5th hour of their shift, which wreaks havoc with scheduling for businesses such as the restaurant industry, where peak customer demand may occur during scheduled lunch breaks.
Manufacturers believe that scheduling workers on a four-day, 40-hour work week would increase their plants productivity.
All efforts to achieve flexi-time legislation, including one push under former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, were defeated by the lobbying of labor unions and religious organizations. they succeeded in watering down Rosselló's attempt at flexi-time by requiring employers to gain daily written consent of employees for flexi-time hours.
Labor unions, some of them led by socialists and pro-independence supporters, have tenaciously opposed any changes in Puerto Rico's antiquated and paternalistic labor laws, many of which were crafted decades ago before the island's industrialization ad modernization took off. The underlying assumption of the island's unwieldy labor laws is the paternalistic notion that employees are unable to think for themselves and have to be protected by Big Government against the rapacious private sector.Religious organizations have also been steady opponents against some labor law reforms, arguing that the more time workers spend away for home means they have less time with their families.
The flexi-time measure is a marked turn-about for the Popular Democratic Party, which has long curried the favor of Puerto Rico's powerful unions and embraced the paternalistic philosophy of knowing what is best for workers. The party's nostalgic insignia, used in all its publications and signs, is the silhouetted profile of a Puerto Rican agricultural peasant, complete with straw hat.
Cantero Frau said that flexi-time would make Puerto Rico more competitive in the emerging global economy. "Everything is on the table," he told the lawyers in his speech at the downtown banker's club.
What the PDP strategists are not discussing publicly is that they are being pushed into an unfamiliar corner by Puerto Rico's worsening economic difficulties.
The pro-business, conservative-sounding positions the administration is taking are a far cry from the something-for-everyone promises of the PDP's 2000 campaign platform. The reality check is happening because Calderón's government has been blindsided by a double whammy -- the slowdown of the U.S. economy in the first two quarters of this year, and the devastating impact of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Calderón's administration has shown agility in responding to the economic fall-out of Sept. 11. Her aid package to the tourism sector is expected to yield quick benefits. Whether her longer-range proposals to address Puerto Rico's lack of competitiveness in the world economy is another story. The United States and the rest of the developed took those steps in the 1990s. In Puerto Rico, the question is -- is it too little, too late?
Robert Becker, Managing Editor of The San Juan Star, writes the weekly Puerto Rico Report column for the Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached directly at: email@example.com
||Puerto Rico se apresura a contraatacar los efectos del 11 de septiembre
El gobierno de Puerto Rico está presentando una serie de rebajas impositivas y subsidios especiales para rescatar a su industria turística, fuertemente golpeada por los ataques del 11 de septiembre.
La gobernadora Sila Calderón también anunció recientemente medidas adicionales para ayudar a otros sectores de la debilitada economía de la isla. Los dirigentes del sector turístico recibieron con entusiasmo las medidas. Los incentivos a la industria turística incluyen la compra, por parte del gobierno, de 10 mil pasajes de avión para distribuir entre los hoteles del Puerto Rico Convention Bureau. Los pasajes comprados por el gobierno serán usados para armar paquetes de bajo costo que atraigan nuevamente a la isla a turistas y participantes de convenciones.
El 5 de octubre, el Secretario de Comercio y Desarrollo Económico, Ramón Cantero Frau, anunció en un discurso ante los miembros de la Colegio Federal Abogados que el gobierno buscaba la aprobación de una ley que autorice a los empleadores a programar turnos divididos para sus empleados y reestructurar las semanas de trabajo, permitiendo, por ejemplo, jornadas de 10 horas en lugar de 8.