By Latrishka Thomas
Declaring that Sunday is no longer considered a holiday may infringe on the rights of each individual to practice their religion. This is what was posited by the Political Leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Harold Lovell, as he shared some of his concerns over the government’s plan to amend the law which presently defines Sunday as a holiday.
“This really has its roots in the protection of the right of each individual to practice his or her religion. Now the world has moved on, the world has changed and if we’re going to say that people have the right to practice their religion then we also have to look at the implications for the Seventh Day Adventists so that also has to be brought into the picture,” he stated.
Lovell also said that the fact that Antigua and Barbuda has a service economy based on tourism “that too has to be taken into account because that would require services every day of the week.”
“So, there are several issues here that need to be looked at, but for some persons, based on the Cabinet notes that I have seen, some persons are going to effectively have a reduction in their pay and that cannot be right,” he continued.
The Political Leader of the Opposition also said that consideration must be made for the financial impact this change will have on the residents of the twin island.
“Now I find that approach to be extremely arbitrary, and I am very concerned about that announcement. I am concerned because there are persons who will be directly affected, and it does not seem as though that was taken into account. I can understand for essential services that you say that they should work on Sunday, but the Cabinet minutes speak for the purposes of calculation of pay, and that’s not an essential services issue.
“That’s an issue that has to do with the pay packet at the end of the week or the end of the month. As far as essential services are concerned, then if you want to say that persons who work in essential services will be required to work on Sundays, then that’s a totally different argument all together,” he added.
It was just last week that the government stated its plan to “clarify” how Sunday is to be treated as a workday and already, there have been numerous discussions on the matter, making it clear that the people of Antigua and Barbuda will not allow the amendment to be made without further discourse.
The origin of these discussions date back to a month ago when Chester Hughes, the Deputy General Secretary of the Antigua Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) explained publicly that the issue had been a contentious one for union members for some time.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Gaston Browne sought to further make plain the reason for Cabinet’s decision for the change saying that the intent is not to completely eliminate the law.
“You’re accustomed to have your Sunday, and if you have to work on a Sunday you get your double-time. I mean, I don’t know that that is what we’re trying to cure. I think we are trying to cure a particular egregious situation involving the port and one or two other agencies in which the Workers Union, they’re trying to create mischief, and that is why I’m of the view and I’m giving an undertaking that the Cabinet will review its decision to see how best we can cure that situation without having a mass amount of people being deprived of their double-time for working on a Sunday.” Browne explained.
Browne said that any industry that pays workers double-time or time-and-a-half for working on a Sunday, is bound to face fiscal challenges, creating an inflation in the economy.
As a result, he said that particular focus will therefore have to be placed on essential services like hospitals and the Port Authority which will require that amendments be made, yet again to the Essential Services Act.