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Flexi-work Bill aims to replace 'biased' old laws

Thursday, March 27, 2014    

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A number of pieces of legislation dating back to the '60s, with provisions relating to rarely observed work arrangements, despite their existence in law, will be affected by amendments proposed under the newly tabled flexible work arrangements (FWAs) Bill.

The Bill's Memorandum of Objects and Reasons points out that it seeks to amend and repeal, where applicable, enactment and provisions relating to hours and days of work to facilitate implementation of the FWAs.

It adds that these changes have become necessary in order to specify that the workweek should consist of 40 hours; specify entitlement to overtime (where applicable) after 40 hours of work; increase the maximum number of hours in a workday from eight or 10 hours, to a maximum of 12 hours; reflect that all seven days of the week should be considered as possible working days; and make it lawful for women to work at night.

The fact that the Bill seeks to legalise women working at nights, except in certain specified cases listed in the Women (Employment of) Act, may seem strange to more recent generations of Jamaicans. But the current Act does state that "no woman shall be employed in night work" except in certain stated cases, including to complete work commenced by day; to preserve fresh fruits for transportation; nursing and caring for the sick; working in cinemas or theatres or in connection with a hotel, guest house, bar, restaurant, or club; and in a pharmacy.

Head of the Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Education Institute at Mona, Danny Roberts, agreed that some of the provisions of the outdated laws are discriminatory, and that the country has been observing many of its social laws "in the breach", undermining good order and good government in the process.

"It shows that, in addition to a fiscal responsibility framework, we need a social responsibility framework, because good governance requires more than just fiscal prudence," he insisted.

He said that the solution now seems to be to add these outdated labour laws to the labour market reform agenda, which is a requirement under the agreement with the International Monetary Fund, and seek to have all of them reviewed.

The Women (Employment of) Act states that to ensure that the provisions are observed, the Ministry of Labour's chief factory inspector, a medical officer, or a police officer may, at all "reasonable" times, inspect any industrial undertaking where women are employed, and any person who obstructs or refuses them permit "shall be liable on summary conviction by a resident magistrate to a fine not exceeding $20, and in default of payment to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding three months".

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