Is Jamaica ready to give paternity leave?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

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Based on the views expressed by some Jamaicans in this newspaper yesterday, the planned consultation on paternity leave, and the expected subsequent debates on this issue, should be robust.

That, we believe, is good, because any intended legislation can only benefit from articulation of a wide variety of views.

The consultation on paternity leave, we are told, will be the main event organised by the Bureau of Gender Affairs in celebration of International Men's Day on November 19.

According to Ms Sharon Coburn Robinson, the bureau's director of policy and research, the results of a study on paternity leave conducted by the bureau will be presented at the consultation.

“We have had consultations around it. We have done research on the issue through the Jamaica Civil Service Association. And at this point we want to produce and present the findings to a critical mass on November 19, and have conversations around it,” Ms Coburn Robinson is reported as telling the Jamaica Information Service.

She said that participants in the consultation will be able to discuss the relevance of paternity leave, how it will affect them, and how it should be handled.

“In some cases, persons think it should be a part of the Maternity Leave Act, but a lot of men we have spoken [that they] do not want to have that. They want a separate policy, and they want it to move to a place to have a policy and a Bill passed,” Ms Coburn Robinson added.

Paternity leave is one of those issues that receives intermittent attention from Jamaicans. We recall the lively debate on this issue four years ago in this newspaper. At the time, a local attorney, while supporting the concept, argued that the psychological basis for paternity leave to become a reality does not exist in Jamaica.

According to the attorney, men are regarded as the primary breadwinners of families, so the concept of paternity leave may prove difficult to accept. He also raised the issue of the country's ability to afford paid paternity leave and posited that more preparation would be needed for the country to implement what he described as a First-World practice.

Countries such as Sweden, Estonia, Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Hungary have generous paternity leave policies to their citizens all designed to promote bonding between fathers and their children and provide vital support to mothers.

In Sweden, for instance, where new parents are entitled to 480 days of leave at 80 per cent of their normal pay, fathers receive 90 paid paternity days.

A full nine months of post-childbirth leave is granted to parents in Iceland — three months for new mothers and three months for fathers, while the couple can decide how to split the remaining three months with each parent receiving 80 per cent of their salary while on leave.

Given the tight fiscal space in which Jamaica now exists, it would be difficult, we believe, for the State to make such generous offers to public sector workers. However, it can't be beyond the country to fashion paternity leave legislation similar to the current Maternity Leave Act.

One of the Jamaicans quoted in yesterday's story, Mr Devon Sparks, said that paternity leave should be granted only to responsible fathers, those who stand out and take care of their children.

That view was voiced by other people with whom the Jamaica Observer spoke. It's a view that we find quite interesting, especially in a society where philandering is common.

The debate, as we said, will no doubt be lively. We look forward to it.

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