Opposition calls for expanded parental leave

Parental leave: Friday Feature follow-up

Opposition politicians are pushing for more generous parental leave allowances for mums in the Cayman Islands.

The Cayman Compass highlighted the issue in a special feature last week which showed that the island’s allowance of six-weeks paid maternity leave is among the lowest in the developed world.

Chris Saunders, the independent legislator for Bodden Town West said he had drafted a private member’s motion calling for women in the private sector to be granted the same maternity leave allowances as women in the civil service.

Government workers get 18 weeks of leave, while private sector workers are entitled to a maximum of 12. For both groups, only six weeks of that leave is paid.

Saunders said the motion was on the order paper for a legislative session earlier this year but was removed for time reasons.

He said he would be resubmitting the motion later this year, calling it an important first step towards better parental leave allowances.

He added, “One of the things we recognise is that we, as a country, are not doing enough for the family unit.”

Bodden Town West MLA Chris Saunders said he is concerned with government’s plans to hold one national counting of votes on Referendum Day. Photo: Reshma Ragoonath

He said Cayman had a low fertility rate and an ageing population and it was important that government did more to support families.

At current rates he said Caymanians were not “replacing ourselves” and this could lead to problems down the road.

He said the opposition group had looked at a package of legislation to help grow families.

Saunders also brought a motion, which drew government support, calling for changes to the adoption law to allow Caymanian couples to be able to adopt from overseas. He has also backed free healthcare for children.

He said longer maternity leave was the next step.

“We have to take it piece by piece,” he added.

“First we want to ensure that everyone gets the same amount of leave, then we need to look longer term at increasing the amount of that leave that is paid at full rate.”

He added that this had to be done in small steps in partnership with the private sector to avoid hurting small businesses.

This graph shows how Cayman’s maternity leave allowance compares with countries in the OECD.

Saunders said some firms did offer their employees more than the minimum rate.

“Some companies do look after their employees well, but it should be the same across the board,” he added.

As well as supporting family units, he said he wanted to encourage people not to be put off having children by the costs involved and the limited leave time.

He believes low fertility rates could lead to issues as the population ages and said government could do more to encourage people to have kids and may also need to consider immigration legislation.

In last week’s feature the Compass analysed data from UNICEF, which looked at parental leave across the developed world. Compared with the 41 countries in the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, Cayman’s parental leave allowances were better only than the US, which has no federally mandated maternity leave.

The average length of paid parental leave among OECD countries is around 55 weeks, with a mix of paid and unpaid leave factored in.