The Cayman Islands ranks among the least ‘family friendly’ of the world’s richest countries when it comes to parental leave.
Mums in Cayman are entitled to just six weeks paid leave and a maximum of 12 weeks off work after giving birth and there is no guaranteed leave for fathers.
While some companies offer better benefits, many businesses stick to the minimum thresholds outlined in Cayman’s Labour Law.
A recent analysis by UNICEF looked at parental leave across the developed world.
The UK, which offers six weeks at 90% pay and 33 weeks at a lower rate, came out 34th of the 41 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The Cayman Islands is not part of the OECD, but if it were included in the list it would rank 40th, just below Australia, and above the US, which has no federally mandated parental leave.
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Estonia, where mothers get 85 weeks paid maternity leave, topped the league table, while Germany, Japan and Canada also ranked highly.
The average length of paid parental leave among OECD countries is around 55 weeks, with a mix of paid and unpaid leave factored in.
Mums in the Cayman Islands, who spoke to the Cayman Compass, highlighted the difficulty of balancing work and children with such limited leave.
One mum described feeling guilty and conflicted about leaving her child to return to work so soon after giving birth.
“It felt unnatural to be leaving a small baby. I was still breastfeeding and I was having to find slots in my day to go and pump in a cupboard,” she said.
Another mother described taking a business trip, with her own mother in tow, because she was nine months pregnant and medically unable to fly without a chaperone.
Eventually, she said she left the corporate world to set up her own business in order to have a better work/life balance.
Hilary Brooks, an employment lawyer with HSM Chambers in Cayman, said the Cayman Islands was fairly low down the list in terms of benefits offered to parents, compared with other modern economies.
She said successive governments in the Cayman Islands had recognised the basic provisions contained in the Labour Law were not adequate and had moved to increase them.
Both the 2004 Employment Law and the 2015 Labour Relations Bill included slightly more generous leave allocations for new parents, but neither was passed into law.
The latest attempt to revise Cayman’s labour legislation, in 2015, included allocation for five days paid and five days unpaid paternity leave for dads who had put in two years of service with their employer.
The bill also sought to increase maternity leave to 14 weeks – the minimum standard required by the International Labour Organization.
The additional two weeks were unpaid, however.
The bill was pulled back for redrafting in 2016 and Brooks said she was hopeful that if and when it resurfaces it may include more generous benefits for parents.
Even if the new legislation had passed, she said Cayman would still have been a “low man on the totem pole” compared to other advanced economies.
One company that is offering better parental benefits to its employees than the legal minimum is Flow.
In June, the telecommunications company announced it was providing more time off for mothers and fathers, increasing paid leave to 16 weeks and eight weeks, respectively.
Phadra Saunders, director of people for the company in Jamaica and Cayman, said the move was designed to help promote “work-life integration”. She said she believed it would benefit the company by helping them hold on to key employees.
“Our team members give a lot of time to the job and when there is a new baby, we think it is important to give them time to be able to bond and become a family.
“We don’t think it will mean any disadvantages to our business. We do have quite a few young team members and some are getting engaged and married and we think it is an advantage for us to have this policy.”
The UNICEF report looked at other “family friendly” policies, including childcare and early childhood education provision.
UNICEF is advocating for at least six months of leave for all parents, safe and comfortable public and work-based places for women to breastfeed and universal access to quality, affordable childcare from birth to children’s entry into the first grade of school.