Go further with paternity leave
Make it mandatory in private sector, says trade unionist
The Government has announced that it will introduce paternity leave in the public sector.

HEAD of the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Supervisory Employees (UCASE) Vincent Morrison is urging the Government to go even further with its just-announced paternity leave entitlement by bringing law to Parliament which would mandate the private sector to include the benefit in its employment arrangements.

Morrison, who over the years has advocated the 1979 Maternity Act to be amended to allow for more leave time, noted that a few companies — most recently Caribbean Cement Company where UCASE represents workers — have introduced paternity leave arrangements, which he believes should be more widespread in the private sector.

The increase in the maternity leave period from 40 days' paid leave to three calendar months, which Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke announced last week, only relates to the public sector, as will the paternity leave benefits which, he indicated, are being finalised to be added to the staff orders of 2004.

Since the announcement there has been public speculation as to what the conditions of the benefit might be, and whether paternity leave should be withheld from men in certain situations. The Government is also proposing to extend parental leave to adoptive parents in the public sector.

Morrison said a minimum of five to 10 days would be reasonable to start with, for a new benefit such as this, and believes it would be a bad idea to bar fathers in non-traditional arrangements from the benefit, pointing to the 1976 Status of Children Act which legally dismissed the concept of bastardy in Jamaica.

"I don't agree with it [excluding men who father children with multiple women]. You can't have legislation which speaks to bastardy [being done away with] and then you have paternity law which speaks to something else. It should be in line," he contended.

At the same time, he said the Government also needs to urgently address sick leave arrangements to codify the length of time-off employees are entitled to outside of the standard two weeks which are now provided for in law.

He argued that an extension should be guided by medical advice, but at the same time there needs to be a provision in law that would bind employers to grant this extension where it is deemed necessary, as currently, sick leave extension is done on either a discretionary, or contractual basis.

"Where the employee is hospitalised and has to do surgery and has to recuperate, they normally get an extension; it really depends on the doctor's certification. The guiding process in this situation should be the medical doctor," Morrison said.

He also noted that many employees find themselves out of a job when they exceed the sick leave limit out of necessity, and that situations like these highlight the need for decent work arrangements to be made mandatory for all places of work.

"We have a number of employees who work in shops, hardwares, haberdasheries…the law should take its course in putting in place decent arrangements that would cover these employees. An illness could be due to the conditions under which you work and then at the end of your sick period you're told that there is no work, and this is what is happening," the trade unionist disclosed.

MORRISON... a minimum of five to 10 days would be reasonable to start with
BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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