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Local unions back Swiss group's call for... Full maternity pay for women!

Published:Sunday | April 5, 2015 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue

An international body is urging the Jamaican Government to pay women for all 12 weeks of maternity leave to which they are entitled under the Maternity Leave Act of 1979.

At present, the law requires employers to pay eight weeks of maternity leave, with the other four weeks being unpaid. However, the Geneva Infant Feeding Association (GIFA) now wants the payment to extend for the entire period.

The position is one of eight contained in the Swiss-based group's recommendation to the recent meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Responding to the recommendation, Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna, who led Jamaica's delegation to the meeting, noted that Jamaica was one of the pioneering countries to have provided paid maternity leave to women before most countries "even considered it".

"One could never argue against ensuring that a child is given the best nutrition for good health, particularly in their formative years, for brain and physiological development. However, when the recommendations were presented to us in Switzerland, we were well into our Budget preparations," Hanna told The Sunday Gleaner.

"The Ministry of Labour and Social Security would have to play an integral role as to the way forward for any amendments in this area," added Hanna.

Switzerland, where the group is based, offers its women 14 weeks of paid maternity leave.




GIFA's call has been supported by president general of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) Senator Kavan Gayle.

"We support it, and we go further. We have been asking employers, where possible, to pay the full three months. Again, where possible, to also consider paternity leave to fathers to provide them with an opportunity to bond with their children. Even a week, for starters, to begin with," said Gayle.

He said paternity leave would pave the way forward to good family relationships and allow more men to play a positive role in the lives of their children from birth.

However, Gayle said given the state of the Jamaican economy, he did not believe the proposals would be considered favourably at this time.

For Vincent Morrison, president of the Union of Clerical Administrative and Supervisory Employees (UCASE), the proposal is not one that his union would oppose.

"I don't have a problem with it, but it must be understood that there are some employers who pay the full leave to women, and some pay paternity leave to men. These employers must be saluted," said Morrison.

He added that the position was a progressive argument, and UCASE would be happy if it became law.

Gayle said amendments to the Maternity Leave Act would be required to pay for the extra four weeks and the issue would become an agenda item for the Labour Advisory Council in discussion with the Ministry of Labour.

The Switzerland-based group also wants the Jamaican Government to

make it obligatory for employers to provide nursing breaks and rooms for lactating mothers.

Both Gayle and Morrison said this position is strongly supported by their respective unions.

On the issue of mandatory nursing breaks, GIFA said its recommendation was based on what it said is Jamaica's "low rates of early initiation of breast-feeding, exclusive breast-feeding for up to six months of age, and continued breast-feeding up to two years".

According to GIFA, there is a general lack of knowledge about optimal breast-feeding practices in Jamaica. It argued that eight out of every 10 children in Jamaica are not exclusively breastfed until six months of age.