Gov’t urged to start talks on maternity, paternity leave

TWO of the island’s trade unions are calling on the Government to begin consultations to thrash out plans to increase maternity leave and introduce paternity and family leave following those announcements in July this year.

Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke had announced that the Government would be updating the Public Sector Staff Orders of 2004 to increase maternity leave from 40 days to three calendar months, introduce paternity leave for the first time in the public service for fathers of newborns, and introduce family leave for adoptive parents who are bringing a new child into the home.

At the time, several interest groups had expressed surprise at the announcement, stating that the move was premature as discussions were still at the embryonic stage.

President of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), Senator Kavan Gayle, speaking with the Jamaica Observer on Monday, said the idea had come from the unions during the discussions on the planned public sector compensation review. He said since the announcement there has been silence.

“For me, he [Clarke] can take paternity for it because once you announce it you would have committed to it. In terms of the consultations now in terms of how it will work, to what extent of it, we have not yet had those discussions. It is our anticipation and expectation that such discussions will take place with the minister,” Gayle told the Observer.

He said the BITU is expecting that the Government will provide a policy direction during those talks to enable it to examine and make its own proposals and amendments, if necessary.

“The ministry, by committing itself, would have made a bold and also a bright move because you still have private sector entities that have not gone that far. And for the BITU, it has been part of our collective bargaining arrangements that have made recommendations in these areas, bearing in mind that the Maternity Leave Act has never been touched, so it is still operating as virgin. It is a piece of legislation that, since 1979, has never been amended, so the Maternity Leave Act is on leave,” Gayle argued.

“… We need to have the consultations and we need to have from them that policy prescription in terms of where exactly they intend to go and how it will work. There has been nothing since then, but I gather we would have been distracted because we are still trying to conclude the compensation review, so it is work in progress,” he pointed out.

Vincent Morrison, president of the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Supervisory Employees, is also calling for those consultations to begin. According to Morrison, “too many workers across Jamaica in all the sectors have been having challenges with maternity leave”.

“We have a Parliament that passes these Acts and what Parliament does is supposed to be supreme, and this is our problem in Jamaica — we are always doing things in a backwards fashion,” he charged.

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