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Protests grow in Puerto Rico amid demands for higher wages

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (AP) – Shrill whistles mixed with drums, tambourines and the clacking of spoons on pots as public employees shut down streets in Puerto Rico’s capital on Friday to demand better pay and pensions.

The crowd shimmied and clapped as demonstrators held up signs reading, “Fair wages now!”

It’s a call that has echoed across Puerto Rico in recent weeks as government employees and supporters take to the streets, emboldened by thousands of public school teachers who abandoned classrooms in early February to demand raises and better pensions.

Protests have multiplied and the unrest is posing one of the biggest challenges for Governor Pedro Pierluisi a year into his term.

Legislators are the only public workers who have an automatic cost-of-living increase for their salaries. Most of the US territory’s other public employees have not gotten pay raises in more than a decade – sometimes two – as the cost of living has risen and the island has suffered a lengthy economic crisis and a government bankruptcy in the aftermath of deadly hurricanes, earthquakes and the pandemic.

Power and water bills are nearly 60 per cent higher in Puerto Rico than the United States (US) average. Groceries are 18 per cent more expensive than on the mainland, although healthcare and housing costs, among others, are lower, according to the island’s Institute of Statistics.

Public employees march to demand better salaries, adequate pensions and better employment conditions in San Juan, Puerto Rico. PHOTO: AP