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No Sabbath, no flexi-week!

Church groups say Gov’t must hold consultations before passing Bill

Friday, February 21, 2014    

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THE Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jamaica has urged legislators not to pass the Flexible Work Arrangement Bill in Parliament until its members and other Sabbath-keeping congregations across the country are guaranteed the 24-hour Sabbath.

According to an article on the church's website, head of the organisation Pastor Everett Brown told the congregation gathered for the installation of newly elected leaders in the church's northern region (St Ann and Trelawny) last week that the church needed strong, courageous leaders to oppose "any attempt to curtail our religious freedom which the Constitution guarantees, by the passing of legislation on the new flexible work arrangements".

The service was held at Brown's Town Seventh-day Adventist Church.

"Let me make the position of the church clear: God, who mandated the Seventh-day Sabbath as His holy day of worship, did not make it a 12-hour day, but a 24-four hour one — from sunset Friday evening to sunset Saturday evening," he said.

That position is among a list of concerns outlined in a letter which the Umbrella Group of Churches — of which the Adventist body is part — sent to the Minister of Labour via e-mail Tuesday and regular mail yesterday.

"We hope to have a conversation," secretary of the group Rev Gary Harriott told the Jamaica Observer yesterday. "The church, through a group called the Concerned Church Leaders, has been following this matter for a number of years and while we recognise that there are values to be gained from a flexible work agreement in Jamaica, we are concerned about the impact it will have on the life of the church."

"While we have flexible work arrangements [to some extent] now, it only affects a small group of people. Our concern is that when it becomes wide-scale, what will it mean for the larger body of the church, and what will it mean culturally for us?" he asked in reference to the current definition of "the weekend".

Discussions about flexible work arrangements have been on the table for nearly 20 years and legislation is expected to be passed by the end of March this year as a requirement of the latest IMF agreement. Government issued a ministry paper on the subject with the promise that public education and consultations would be carried out before any regulations are enacted.

But that has not happened to date and, according to Rev Harriott, "What we don't want is for the Bill to be rushed through Parliament, like many we have seen last year, without any proper debate and public education and which causes an economic backlash."

"We are concerned about the protection of a person's right to worhip as enshrined in the Constitution. Based on the ministry paper that we read, the work schedule will be determined by negotiation between the worker and the employer and we are concerned about that because they do not have equal power. It should not be left open to negotiation but should be protected under law where power rests with the employer," Harriott said.

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