May 15, 2006 – Lately, I have been getting a queasy feeling that some of our most vocal legislators still have not gotten it right when it comes to business and employment prosperity. It is a simple reality they seem unable to grasp. We are in a fierce world competition for business – and more regressive employment and business regulations will not generate business and jobs!
As we review the pattern of legislation, our well-intended legislators seem to have an uncontrollable penchant for shooting themselves and the territory in the proverbial foot. A few weeks ago, there was a bill floating around in the Senate to shove through mandated employer paid health benefits. There was also minimum wage bill.
Now, we have another piece of legislation to require employers to pay workers not to work twice a day. The proposed legislation calls for two paid breaks a day for workers in non-unionized work settings. The fact is that most jurisdictions across the nation do not mandate employers to provide paid breaks for workers. Break time is left up to the negotiated agreements between unions and employers and to the necessities of different types of industries.
Instead of discouraging businesses or chasing away the few remaining in the territory, legislators, who are genuinely concerned with the well-being of workers, should focus their energies and creative juices on ways to attract and entice businesses to grow and expand here in the territory.
An indisputable fact is that our community needs more jobs. We need more employers competing for workers. The healthy competition for workers will induce employers to provide better breaks, better work conditions and better benefit packages for employees.
Of course, most stable employers in our territory already pay for breaks at work and provide for generous work benefits such as sick leave, funeral leave, vacation leave and other paid leaves. And by law, public sector employers already pay for over 25 holidays; plus paid time for Carnival and Festival; plus time to attend school meetings; and paid time to vote. Lately, employers have paid for several days off in various agencies for flooded and mildewed buildings.
Give us all a break! We certainly do not need more excuses for time off with pay. An image of work avoidance and low productivity (or always demanding something for nothing) could be deadly for attracting new businesses to the territory.
To help and to protect our workers, what we really need is more business and more jobs in the Virgin Islands and not burdensome and regressive legislation. More employers in the territory, means more employment and more competition for workers. In turn, this means better jobs, better benefits and therefore a better quality of life for our people.
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Editors note: Carmelo Rivera is a former Labor commissioner and a former president of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce.