The Time is Now

August 1st, 2005
by Alfonso Ebanks

[private] v3-8-Our Islands In this election year the political machine of this country has been activated and is akin to a large hibernating animal that is slowly awaking from a deep slumber. The promises have begun to fill the airways, and right along with the promises there’s the name calling and the faultfinding. It seems like many great beasts have been revived, and as they go forth to the farthest corners of this country each will come bearing the banner of their favorite color and singing the praises of their past achievements and the future selfless service they will offer to the people.

It is amazing that in spite of all the political rhetoric no one cares to mention the dire economical situation this country is in. No one seems to know how to remedy our situation and the politicians are even afraid to name the culprit of our pending demise; so, here we go singing political songs as this country goes merrily down the drain. The unmentionable curse, the cumbrous plague that has doomed this beautiful country is none other than our old nemesis the Honduran Labor Law, and no politician will risk his future and that of his party by uttering the name of the odious malady that was thrust upon this country some forty years ago. To me it’s reminiscent of what is said of the New York City’s subways third rail, “touch it, and you’re dead,” so nobody is willing to commit political hara-kiri.

Everybody seems to have forgotten the rationale, if not the reason, behind the creation of this hindrance to progress. It came about because the government tried to put into place a law that would obligate companies to pay compensation to employees for injuries on the job and to long time workers that were retired from their jobs. I say “were retired” because the older employees could never afford to quit their jobs. They usually were too old to get a new one, and if they did not work they would starve.

The government did not trust the companies to administer a pension fund, so congress enacted a law that made the employer responsible for paying a lump sum to the worker at his retirement. This law, for all its good intentions, was later corrupted and augmented by politicians looking for votes from a populace that is only about fifty percent literate and who thinks that this law is a great thing. The lump sum arrangement has backed-fired and in no way assures the welfare and health of the recipients, for the monies they are paid out are spent within a year or so and then they must resort to the meager hand-outs of the Honduran seguro social.

The law eventually was changed to cover every employer-employee situation imaginable and always the labor law arbitrators display a predilection for the employee. The employees no longer have to be of retiring age to claim their “prestaciones.” The time on the job to acquire vested rights is a mere 90 days and anytime beyond this period a worker can demand his prestaciones.

That congressional edict in the early sixties was the beginning of the end for this country. Foreign companies faced with so many demands by their workers were forced to shift their manufacturing and assembling plants to our neighboring countries. Within a few years Honduras went from an exporting country to one that imports everything we use. The importing companies must use American Dollars to purchase from our neighbors and that is why we have to pay such high prices for everything. Nobody is trying to bring back those companies, those jobs and that revenue that we need so desperately.

To make things worse the government is now in the dollar auctioning business and for every penny that the dollar increases in price over the lempira, the Banco Central de Honduras takes in anywhere from 13 million to 16 million lempiras a week. That profit is money that comes directly out of the pockets of the people because that amount is the minimum the merchandise is purchased with. Those dollars will increase when those goods go on sale to the public, and the increase in the price of the dollar is directly related to government’s auction of dollars.

The future looks bleak. What we need is some reforms to the “codigo del Trabajo,” that will somehow exempt foreign companies from this unjust law while guaranteeing their employees a fair wage and meaningful benefits. We have been living with this monster much too long. As a matter of fact, it’s been so long that most people fail to see it for what it really is. This law has had and will continue to have a negative effect on all Hondurans. This burden is so great that the government is trying to squeeze out from under it, by offering the teachers union a pension-like plan that makes monthly payments to retirees rather than the lump sum settlement that is dictated by the law.

However, all is not lost and there is still time to reverse our situation. That time is now, so call your politicians and let them know that we need more action and less rhetoric. They all know what has to be done, so make them get on with it. [/private]

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