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Government workers make do with fewer hours

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Oct. 4, 2011) - Most government agencies under the Executive Branch will now be closed every Friday instead of every-other-Friday as part of the fiscal year 2012’s austerity measures that still include 16-hour work cuts biweekly and unpaid holidays.

The Monday to Thursday work hours are, however, back to 7:30 am to 4:30 pm .

In fiscal year 2011, the work hours were changed to 8:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday to Friday on non-payday Friday, and from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday to Thursday and closed during "payday Friday."

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial issued Friday a directive spelling out the work hours for fiscal year 2012 effective Oct. 3, saying the government will continue to observe 16 austerity hours per pay period to adhere to the US$102 million spending level budgeted for each department/agency in Public Law 17-55.

"However, unlike [fiscal year] 2011, the 16 austerity hours will be observed every Friday," Fitial told all departments and agencies.

If a legally recognized holiday falls on a Friday, that day will be paid, provided the employee has annual leave hours and applies for annual leave.

"Also during this period, tardiness and excessive abuse of work schedules will not be tolerated," Fitial said.

Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos, who presided over yesterday morning’s closed-door Cabinet meeting on Capital Hill, discussed mainly the new work schedule for the new fiscal year that started on Oct. 1.

"[Yesterday’s] Cabinet meeting was to prepare all the departments and activities for [fiscal year] 2012 and the bulk of it was Directive 282," press secretary Angel Demapan told Saipan Tribune in an interview after the meeting.

Demapan said the directive seeks to establish uniformity in the implementation of austerity hours.

He also said some agencies, including those providing critical services such as the departments of Public Health and Public Safety, are not necessarily required to close every Friday. He said the austerity Fridays depend on the functions of the agencies.

An Executive Branch employee who has been with the government since 1996 said she would prefer that the 16 austerity hours are "every Friday" rather than every-other-Friday so that employees will be able to better manage their time.

For example, some government employees would have a better chance of finding another job during the Fridays that the government offices are closed, and not just every-other-Friday.

The governor’s directive does not cover the Legislature and the Judiciary.

Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota), in a separate interview, said just like in previous years, it will be up to the individual members of the Senate to observe austerity hours or not.

"They are the expenditure authority," he said.

Members of the House of Representatives also decide on their own, whether to close on certain hours or days.

As for the Legislative Bureau’s work hours, Manglona said this is something that he and Speaker Eli Cabrera will have to discuss.

Fitial, in his directive, reminded that Fair Labor Standards Act employment regulations are very specific with regards to time and attendance.

For the purpose of his memorandum, the governor pointed out that what is on the time card, unless noted otherwise, is the time worked, if one is overtime-eligible.

The governor said it has come his attention that "it has been common for employees to time in before the official office hours."

"I understand that some may say that the extra time is being volunteered, but this, too, is not allowable as the Commonwealth is prohibited by law from accepting voluntary unpaid services from its employees," he said.

Employees are prohibited from timing in or out outside the official office hours of 7:30 am to 4:30 pm .

The lunch period is one hour each day. Lunch hour will not be lengthened or shortened to make up for morning or afternoon time-in variances.

Fitial said timekeeping must be strictly enforced.

He also said the time on the time card will be calculated exactly each day, hours, and minutes, and added up at the end of the weekly pay period.

At the end of the second week, the end of the government pay period, the cumulative total will be calculated and rounded off to the nearest quarter hour.

The governor said all employees must pay special attention to avoid both absences and excess work time.

"Time missed in the first week of a pay period cannot be made up in the second week without approval. Unauthorized absences will be subject to disciplinary action," he said.

All expected overtime hours must also be approved in advance, except in cases of emergency situations.

Salaried, overtime-exempt employees

The governor’s three-page directive says salaried and overtime-exempt employees are expected to work whatever hours are required in order to accomplish their duties and their portion of the Commonwealth’s mission.

On many occasions, that involves work beyond one’s normal work hours.

"As you are aware, you do not receive overtime or formal compensatory time-off," the governor said.

Salaried and overtime-exempt employees will not be deducted for minor tardiness or required to take an annual leave to make up the time, unless such tardiness has become a frequent occurrence.

The governor said that secretaries will address this personally if the situation should occur, while he will directly deal with Cabinet-level members should this occur.

"Any non-work absences in excess of one hour must be approved by each respective department’s secretary/director, or in the case of Cabinet members, by me or the lieutenant governor," Fitial added.

To cope with the government’s declining revenues, the Fitial administration has been implementing austerity measures. From the revised US$122-million budget in 2011, the government has to live within its US$102-million budget for 2012.

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