Orville Taylor | Paternity leave: Critical for families
Until we put the best expertise available at the disposal of those who administer the affairs of the youngest of our citizens, the fruits we reap will be bitter and sour.
It has long been my contention that we must give our children the best chance of advancing, and it will solve many of the problems that we have later on in society such as crime and violence, low productivity, low educational achievement, and many others. True, my unrelenting argument has been that we must have the best and most qualified teachers in early childhood institutions and that the officers in the family courts must be at the upper echelons of the social work, legal profession, and the judiciary. However, it all begins at home.
There is no substitute for a child coming into the world having the solid parental care and, thankfully, the grass roots, intellectual, and political leadership of the 1970s came together and put the provision of maternity leave on the agenda of the government of the day. It was not simply an act of benevolence of a socialist worker-loving government as is often proposed. Indeed, no Jamaican government ever ratified the Maternity Protection Convention (Revised) of 1952. Male-dominated legislatures for a quarter century showed little appreciation for the principle despite the massive increase in females in the labour force since the post-World War period. Children were at risk because mothers had to make a choice between the demands of work and child-rearing.
Fortuitously, though unratified, and therefore not binding, the convention was given effect by the Jamaican Maternity Leave Act of 1979. This wonderful piece of statute provides for a woman to be given a minimum of 12 weeks paid maternity leave. Beyond that she is also entitled to an additional 14 weeks unpaid leave if there are further complications due to the pregnancy or the illness of the child. Now, inasmuch as the statute was groundbreaking, it is almost 40 years old and falls short of current needs.
In comes Convention 183; Maternity Protection Convention, adopted in 2000 and also not ratified by the Jamaican Government. We still have not caught up with this labour standard despite it now being an adult 18 years old. It provides for 14 weeks paid leave; two better than the Jamaican law. Indeed, not having kept abreast of the standards regarding lactating mothers, our act does not address the provisions of Article 10, which states, "A woman shall be provided with the right to one or more daily breaks or a daily reduction of hours of work to breastfeed her child ... These breaks, or the reduction of daily hours of work, shall be counted as working time and remunerated accordingly." Hence, mothers still have to juggle the two areas of responsibility.
Therefore, before we get to the discussion on paternity leave, we need to get current with the international standard on maternity leave.
Having said that, the last time I checked, for all the contempt for 'wutliss fathers' and familiarity with the issues relating to conception, the biological prerequisite means that at a minimum, women do not impregnate themselves. This is not about gender; it is about sex, both in terms of male vs female and that biological act that leads to a new life appearing. Children are produced by both parents and equally need them. Apart from breastfeeding, there is nothing that is exclusive to a female parent, and the law and practice should recognise that. Parental leave is not only good for the society and part of the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) decent work agenda. It is a critical part of the discourse on fundamental human rights.
In the UN's 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Article 16 states, " (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State."
Unfortunately, ignorance is an amazingly good mentor, and perhaps because histori-cally, 80 per cent of our children are born out of wedlock, there was the assumption that they were either not conceived in stable unions or in families. Therefore, the early thinking was that it was simply a matter of accommodating the mothers. Going back to as far as 1957 when no one bothered to read the actual research findings in My Mother who Fathered Me by Edith Clarke, much of our public policy and activism have been based on myths and grand narratives. One of the biggest misrepresentations has been the role and status of fathers in this country. Those who read the book know that Clarke was trying to explain the minority 30 per cent of households where fathers were absent rather than the 70 per cent where they co-resided.
Unwed doesn't mean uncommitted. A 2006 report from the United Nations Development Programme revealed that 80 per cent of Jamaica's children have both of their parents involved in their lives. In fact, the JA Kids study carried out by my UWI colleagues between 2011 and 2016 indicated that the overwhelming majority of biological fathers claimed paternity before and after birth and were around, supporting them, even after the intimate relationship had ended.
Slavery took everything from our men, and fathering is one of the few things they have left. Results of DNA analyses in this country have varied from 35 to 10 per cent of men 'failing the test' even when they have studied for it for all of the children's lives. Our men love fathering - whether in drudging clothes or jacket-suited.
Yet, ironically, many human resource managers, most of whom are women, oppose the idea of men getting time off to do basic things like attending PTA meetings and sports day. Somewhere in the narrative is the nonsense that they use the time off to go 'look woman'. Of course, women cannot deny maternity even when the child is conceived during the same time offs that their managers deny the men.
Yet, none of that matters; let men get the time off and please don't use DNA for them to qualify.
- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.