‘Low-wage workers would benefit’

Low-wage employees who were affected by past austerity measures of the CNMI government would benefit from House Bill 20-120 if ever the measure is passed the Senate and signed into law.

Vice speaker Janet U. Maratita (R-Saipan) introduced H.B. 20-120 on Aug. 30, 2017, to provide for the payment of employees whose salary increases were suspended due to the financial austerity measures of the government.

H.B. 20-120 is an enabling legislation that would authorize the Office of Personnel Management to pay over 1,000 employees who were never given within-grade increases, as provided in the law, which states that all civil servants should be given an annual WGI (Within-Grade Increase).

The bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee chaired by Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan) where they passed it on July 30. It was sent to the Senate where it was assigned to the Committee on Fiscal Affairs, chaired by Sen. Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian).

It was among the bills that were on the calendar recommended for final reading in last week’s Senate session, but they have to postpone acting on it after several senators raised concerns.

Hofschneider himself, along with Sens. Sixto K. Igisomar (R-Saipan), Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota), and Teresita A. Santos (R-Rota), had asked the Senate to defer acting on the bill as there are issues that first need to be clarified.

Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan) had to ask Senate floor leader Sen. Francisco M. Borja (R-Tinian) to withdraw his motion for passage and was later referred the bill back to Hofschneider’s committee.

Maratita said she began working on the bill after being sworn in as a member of the 20th Legislature. “I worked on it when I came in last year because the frozen [step] employees were given [retroactive pay].”

“There were some concerns for those who are in the low-end salary [workers]. That’s why I decided to come up with this legislation because it is not fair that those people with frozen steps were given retroactive [pay].”

She added that these employees have been waiting to receive their overdue salary increases. “These employees have been waiting for this. In fact, the Senate assured them that they are going to act on it and now they referred it back to the committee?”

“These employees are entitled for the WGI. They were never given a raise …OPM gave me the certified list of employees.”

Hofschneider said he wants his committee to clarify some issues since other agencies could also be included. “It is important to request to hold action on this to get more clarity on what the particular legislation is asking.”

Concerns

Igisomar said the bill is not clear on the source of funds and language should be included that would protect the employees that deserve the increase. He said: “I fully support the bill but we need the funding to also be included.”

Also, he wants language that would waive the requirement for performance evaluations. “Some of these people may not even have that. I believe the previous performance evaluation was waived because there’s no reason to do it since there’s not going to be any increase. Language should be put in to protect those employees [despite] lacking the performance evaluation.”

Manglona, on the other hand, said the FAC should at least call a public hearing or have a meeting with the Civil Service Commission and other department secretaries. “Some of these people have already retired and some have moved on. Their salary was not increased and their retirement benefits do not reflect the salaries that they should be receiving. They have been hit twice, I hope the [FAC] could call some of them.”

He added that they must expeditiously act on the bill so the Senate could pass it at the next session. “We must make sure the people are compensated and that they deserve it…It is the right thing to do. Those that can get this benefit truly deserve to get it.”

Santos said that employees from Rota were also calling her. “I’ve received calls from Rota requesting for the immediate passage of the legislation.”

Jon Perez | Reporter
Jon Perez began his writing career as a sports reporter in the Philippines where he has covered local and international events. He became a news writer when he joined media network ABS-CBN. He joined the weekly DAWN, University of the East’s student newspaper, while in college.

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