Workers’ Union says Govt’s failure to consult on amendment to maternity leave has created financial hardship for mothers

Once again, the Gaston Browne Administration is being criticized for failing to consult before taking major decisions that affect the populace.

The Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union (ABWU) is registering its disapproval of what appears to be the Government’s high-handed approach to passing legislation that impacts workers.

Last week, the Lower House passed a Bill to increase maternity leave from 12 to 14 weeks.  This reportedly was done to bring the country in line with Article 4 of the Maternity Protection Convention 2000, No. 183 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

While the Union commends the Government for harmonizing the legislation, it is publicly registering disapproval at the lack of consultation with stakeholders on this matter.

“An amendment of this nature could have benefited from the input of unions and employers, organized under the tri-partite umbrella of the National Labour Board,” the Union says in a statement.

However, because of his “single-minded approach to this matter,” Labour Minister Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin has fashioned an amendment that is not properly synchronized with existing legislation on maternity leave, the Union adds.

It says that, instead of providing additional relief, the new amendment worsens the existing discrepancies and further disadvantages mothers.

To illustrate its point, the ABWU says the extension of maternity leave means that mothers must survive without a full income for a longer period.

The 1998 amendment of the Labour Code requires only six weeks payments of maternity benefits by the employer. Therefore, mothers now stand to lose up to 40% of their weekly income for a total of eight weeks, the Union explains.

While Social Security will pay the maternity allowance of 60% of income, that benefit expires at 13 weeks, the Union states.  Accordingly, this leaves the mother with a complete loss of income for the final week of maternity leave.

The Union is therefore calling on the Labour Minister and the Government to consider further amendments that would offer better financial protection to working mothers during this vulnerable period.

David Massiah, General Secretary of the Union, is challenging Benjamin to look more thoughtfully and compassionately at the unique circumstances of mothers.

“Women and mothers form a critical segment of the country’s workforce, and they make an invaluable contribution to the nation’s social and economic development,” Massiah says.

“As such, we believe that no effort should be spared in ensuring that they are not disadvantaged because of motherhood,” he concludes.