Editorial

No need to flex muscles over flexi-workweek

Tuesday, April 08, 2014    

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Debate on a flexible workweek has been taking place here intermittently for just over 20 years. Probably that's where the problem lies in the revival of this burning issue.

For, had the country sustained the debate from the first time the matter was raised, Jamaica would most likely be past the point of now trying to introduce legislation that is still being questioned.

It is obvious that this time Jamaica does not have the luxury of procrastination because, as we heard from Senator Floyd Morris recently, the flexi-work arrangements are among "benchmark legislation" which must be tabled in Parliament as a part of Jamaica's funding agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Must we always be prodded by external organisations before we do what is right for us?

Senator Morris, though, makes a good point in arguing that if the flexi-workweek "is properly managed and properly implemented, it will redound to the good of the country".

Economies that do not experience a shutdown of production on weekends are, for the most part, more successful. In those economies, more people are employed, commerce thrives, and individuals have the opportunity to improve their well-being.

Flexi-week is not entirely new to Jamaica because many sectors — the media, police, health and so on — have practised it forever without calling it by any fancy name. Why the fuss, we must ask?

We remember the first time that the idea of a flexi-workweek was raised the church screamed its opposition. At the time, no one could get them to see the wisdom of the policy; because to them, the idea of people working on the traditional day of Christian worship — Sunday — was sacrilegious. That was also why the church was so opposed to Sunday shopping when it was first introduced.

The Adventists, too, had a difficulty with the proposal, probably even moreso because Saturday — their worship day, or Sabbath — has always been regarded as a major day for commerce.

We are glad to learn now that the church is no longer opposed to the idea of a flexi-workweek as its leaders believe that it does have some benefits. Where the church has a difficulty, according to Rev Gary Harriott, president of the Jamaica Council of Churches, is in employers being able to determine employees' day of rest. That determination, the church believes, should be the employees' right.

Former Labour Minister Pearnel Charles has said that the position held by the church is exactly what is stated in the Bill. He also pointed out that any individual whose religious rights are breached can take their case to the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT).

We don't know the IDT to be a slouch on matters taken before it, therefore we cannot share the doubts about its capacity to deal with a possible increase in cases, as expressed by Rev Harriott and attorney Mr Wendel Wilkins.

However, we hold that, given that the Administration has painted itself in a corner on this issue, it needs to ensure a more structured debate on the matter, giving all stakeholders the opportunity to air their concerns, and that those concerns are addressed before the law is passed.

This issue should also inform our legislators of the problems they create for the country when they drag their feet.

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