Consultation ‘missing’ on maternity leave legal amendments

Mothers stand to lose up to 40 percent of their weekly income for a total of eight weeks, the union claims (Photo courtesy Getty Images)
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One union is registering its disapproval with what it said is the government’s lack of consultation with residents when it made changes to a bill to extend maternity leave from 12 to 14 weeks.

Although the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union’ (ABWU) says it is not entirely against the move, it believes public discussions should have taken place.

The union believes that such an amendment could have benefited from the input of unions and employers organised under the tripartite umbrella of the National Labour Board.

The Labour Minister “has produced an amendment which is not properly synchronised with existing pieces of legislation on maternity leave. Moreover, instead of providing additional relief, the new amendment exacerbates existing discrepancies and further disadvantages mothers,” General Secretary of the ABWU David Massiah claimed in a press statement yesterday.

He said the extension of the maternity leave period means that mothers must survive without a full income for a longer period, because the 1998 amendment of the Labour Code requires only six weeks of payments of maternity benefits by the employer.

Consequently, mothers stand to lose up to 40 percent of their weekly income for a total of eight weeks.

“In no way can this be in the best interest of the mother. Moreover, while Social Security continues to pay the mother a maternity allowance of 60 percent of her income, that benefit expires at 13 weeks which leaves the mother with a complete loss of income for the final week of maternity leave,” he added.

“These crippling discrepancies are precisely the reason why the ABWU insists that a tripartite approach would have resulted in a more holistic treatment of the matter,” the statement continued.

The ABWU is calling on the Labour Minister, Steadroy Benjamin, to consider additional amendments that would offer better financial protections to working mothers during this vulnerable period in their lives.

Massiah said he is challenging the Labour Minister to further consider 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. As such, we believe that no effort should be spared in ensuring that they are not disadvantaged because of motherhood,” he concluded.

Minister Benjamin has been approached for comment.

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