72-hour work periods to carry over

‘We aren’t out of the woods

Government workers will have to endure reduced work hours just a little longer after Gov. Ralph DLG Torres signed the $233.22-million fiscal year 2020 budget yesterday on Capital Hill, with a nod toward an economy that is still reeling from the effects of Super Typhoon Yutu almost a year ago.

Citing what the governor describes as a prudent and a safer decision, Torres announced as he signed the fiscal year 2020 budget that the CNMI government will continue to observe a 72-hour work period and that this would carry over to the “first few months” of the fiscal year.

“I know everybody’s [saying that] it’s a new budget, therefore employees will come back to 80 hour [work periods]. We also know that appropriation is projected revenue, and I want to inform you that the 72-hour [workweeks] will continue for the next couple of months. The last thing Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios and I want to do is lift the 72-hour workweek and then come back in January saying, ‘Oops, what we projected to come in has not come in,’” he stated before signing the budget.

Torres further noted that the decision to continue the alternating 72-hour workweek is intended to “safeguard everybody.” He did express thanks to the Legislature for once again coming up with a budget bill in a timely manner, thereby averting a partial government shutdown for a second year.

“…To prevent further reductions in hours or perhaps laying off employment, I ask we continue to move forward with the 72 hours. There is revenue expected to come in. …Until then, it is only to safeguard our employees and to deal with what we have in the next couple of months,” the governor noted.

“As much as we want to lift the 72-hour workweek back to 80 hours, be mindful that the revenue and taxation is basically the same. The fact that it is a new fiscal year does not mean that all of a sudden, the heavens open up. …We continue to incur the same expenses and we continue to collect the same revenue,” Palacios added in a statement.

“We would love to…go back to 80 hours but it is better to be fully honest with ourselves and to be prudent that we are really not out of the woods and we need to continue to be vigilant and to have collective fiscal restraint,” he added. “We would love nothing else but [revert] to the 80-hour work schedule for our people, but at this point in time…it would be stupid, to say the least, on the governor’s and my part to lift it, only to come back three, four months down the line to say we screwed up.”

60-day target to revert to 80 hours

Palacios, during his statement, noted that the administration is looking at reverting to the 80-hour workweeks in 60 days.

“We are looking, hoping, and crossing our fingers that we are going to [lift the austerity measure in 60 days],” he said.

In response, Senate President Victor B. Hocog (R-Rota) asked if there would be retroactive reimbursements.

“We’ve seen when things are moving right, we did that in the past. I just don’t want to give false hope to anybody. If things do well, obviously that consideration will always be there, so the answer is we’ll definitely look into that consideration if we have enough [funding],” he said.

The fiscal year 2020 budget is one of the rarer budgets that skipped the conference committee altogether. The legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Ivan A. Blanco (R-Saipan) on June 27, 2019 and passed on first and final reading. The legislation was transmitted to the Senate soon after, and passed Aug. 22, 2019 after much discussions with several members of the House.

On Sept. 9, 2019, the House accepted Senate changes, skipping through the usual conference committee panel discussions and heads straight to the governor’s office.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.
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