What If Employees Were Treated Like Business Owners?

In Puerto Rico, if a woman gets pregnant she’s not only granted two months of leave, she also receives her full salary while she’s away from the office. Her employer must either hire another person or divide her responsibilities among other employees.

Either way, productivity drops, while costs increase. The loss of productivity is a cost in itself, and the other employees may demand or even legally require overtime pay to fulfill the additional duties.

While I absolutely support the right of women and men to make their own reproductive choices (rights, incidentally, that men do not currently have) and I think family leave is a good idea in theory, I see no reason why the employer should be responsible for personal choices made by the individual employee. Making the employer responsible for your choices is a form of financial slavery.

Imagine if employers had the right to force you to do twice the work for half of the salary, and you have had no choice in the matter? Business owners, quite rightly, cannot fire employees for being pregnant or for taking time off to look after a sick child or relative.

Yet by being forced to accept the choice of individuals, and pay for those choices (e.g., through contraceptives), bosses are compelled to take big cuts to the profits of their businesses — often small firms which they’ve built up from scratch — and even put in overtime themselves to take up the slack.

Who’d Be a Boss?

In Puerto Rico and much of Latin America the individual business owner, entrepreneur, and major corporation are vilified as the epitome of evil. They’re forced to pay for an enormous amount of workers’ “rights” as defined by the law. But the fact that thousands of businesses have closed in Puerto Rico as a direct result of some of these protections has gone completely unnoticed by the media, with the notable exception of Caribbean Business.

Imagine being hated for going to work. Imagine being vilified for not wanting to pay for your fellow employees’ decision to have children. What would it be like if workers were treated like a boss?

For starters you would not be able to choose your work schedule. You would be expected to arrive at all hours to resolve any problem without any additional pay. And no-one would listen to you complain about it either.

“You have a job, you get paid; you can afford it,” would be the refrain from your nemesis: the Business Owners’ Union. Politicians would make hay with your supposed selfishness and cruelty, and the media would report on how much you make and what a luxurious life you live.

You wouldn’t be able to determine a specific skill set for yourself, or position. One day you could be negotiating a deal, the next mopping floors. If you or your partner became pregnant, you couldn’t take time off: you’ve got to keep working, as the business will fold without you. Any time you do take time off, your pay suffers; and you have to personally hire extra people to do your work when you’re unavailable.

Nights and weekends to call your own? Forget it.

Give Everything, Get Nothing

Then comes taxation, or rather it arrives again and again. That’s to say nothing of the regulations. You can’t talk to your boss without a BOU representative skulking in the room, taking copious notes. And you can’t take any disciplinary action against your boss without the BOU’s approval.

And then, one day, the BOU decide that you make too much money, just as populist governments often arbitrarily decide about evil corporations and their CEOs. They go on strike, and you’re in big trouble.

For starters, your revenue stream comes to a complete halt. You can’t pay your bills without dipping into your family’s savings and your creditors may even begin to take action against you.

It doesn’t matter that you only get paid minimum wage for the eight hours you’re officially on the clock, despite all the extra time spent working: the long nights doing paperwork, manning the mop or the till for another employee because they called in sick. You make more than enough, and you’re not doing your fair share.

So while the BOU is on strike you can’t get to work. You can’t get paid and now you can’t get services either. Your electricity is cut off, your water is cut off, and the media blames you: you’re not performing well enough, and you’re just being selfish.

The courts aren’t on your side either. They order you to go back to work and to “negotiate in good faith.” But you can’t go back to work, since the BOU won’t let you in the building until you accept their demands.

If you lose your job, there’s no unemployment pay check waiting, no food stamps; no pity. You were an employee; you lost your job … tough, go find another. This is what happens to real business owners who lose everything. After years of paying through corporate taxes for all the state’s public programs, if they lose their business they get nothing.

Puerto Rico, and so many of its Latin-American neighbors, have done nothing less than kill the engines that drives their economies. Engines need fuel, they need oil, and they need a supportive system, so their sheer horsepower can help the nation move forward.

So be careful how you treat business owners and their evil capitalist friends. Like hundreds of thousands of people who have left Puerto Rico for more welcoming shores, you may miss them when they’re gone.

Edited by Laurie Blair.

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