Gap in maternity leave flagged

Maternity leave in the private sector is 20 days shorter than that of mothers who work in the public sector.

For moms like Kate Theron, who is currently on maternity leave, and Kristin Sullivan, who will shortly be going on maternity leave, the disparity in time off is disappointing.

“I didn’t realise that the government sector actually received a bit more [maternity leave] and I would certainly question the rationale behind that and challenge private business that, if the government can pony up, then why can’t they?” Theron said, during a recent Zoom interview with the Cayman Compass.

“I guess that it would make more sense if it were standard across the board for both private and public sector. I think that would be more fair,” Sullivan said.
The disparity in maternity leave is not a new issue, as proposed changes to the Labour Law in 2015 sought to increase maternity leave, recommending an additional two weeks unpaid leave. However, the bill was pulled back for redrafting in 2016. Its new iteration is yet to be seen.

The issue was raised recently in the Legislative Assembly through a private member’s motion filed by Bodden Town West MLA Chris Saunders who sought to have government consider aligning leave so it would be equal for all female employees.

Saunders, in his motion, pointed out that the Personnel Regulations of the Public Service Management Law provide female employees with 90 working days maternity leave surrounding the birth or adoption of a child. Of those 90 days, 30 working days are on normal pay and the remaining 60 working days are without pay.

Conversely, the Labour Law (2015) revision, he said, currently provides for 14 calendar weeks in any 12-month period which is equivalent to 70 working days calculated at five working days for 14 weeks for women in the private sector. The law requires that mothers receive 20 working days leave on full pay, 20 working days leave on half pay, and the remaining 30 working days on no pay.

“I believe that this inconsistency between the private sector and the civil service needs to be corrected as a matter of natural justice, as we can’t have a Constitution with a Bill of Rights that promotes equality under the law, but then we have laws that are applied unequally,” Saunders argued.

Premier Alden McLaughlin accepted Saunders’s motion on behalf of the government, agreeing to consider the MLA’s resolution.
How soon that will happen remains to be seen.

Expectant mother Kristin Sullivan says she would also like government to consider paternity leave. – Photo: Submitted

More days equals a better bond
For Sullivan, whose baby boy is due shortly, any extra time would be a blessing, especially being a first-time mom, she said.

“I definitely have heard many other countries have more of an extensive maternity leave, which would again be really great. As a first-time mother not really knowing what fully to expect, obviously the more time being able to bond with my child… would be great. I suppose I’ve just got to take what I can get with this and try to make the most of it, but I’m sure it’ll go very quickly,” she said.

Both women suggested a six-month maternity leave period.

Theron said, even with the days that are currently allotted in the civil service, Cayman is still lagging behind the world when it comes to parental leave.

“It’s unfortunately a bit of a shock for most people who moved to the islands to realise that the maternity leave is pretty poor, actually, because remember we get three and a half months in the private sector, but only half of that is full pay [and] half of that is half-pay,” she said.

Theron explained that taking leave comes at a huge financial sacrifice for a lot of working mothers and “then in the developed world, most people these days are fighting for paternity leave and we’re still kind of stuck in the doldrums of being very far behind when it comes to maternity leave”.

She said, for mothers, the first few months of a baby’s life require complete attention and dedication, especially if they are breastfeeding.

“When you think about the World Health Organization encouraging breastfeeding, for example, they encourage breastfeeding up to six months. So, it’s very difficult for a mother who has to go back to work after three and a half months to continue with breastfeeding,” she said.

In making her case for a six-month maternity leave, Theron said it’s a huge disadvantage for female workers who are required to return to work after three and a half months “because the baby doesn’t sleep through the night at that stage”.

“So, you know, the poor mom is having to work a full day and trying to climb back up the corporate ladder with a baby that’s waking up several times during the night,” she said.
The mom of three said what needs to be an important consideration is the fact that maternity leave is not a “holiday”.

“Of course, it’s a privilege,” she said, “but it’s certainly not anything other than what’s necessary for the baby.”

While both mothers would welcome additional days, they said they would also like to see paternity leave included in government’s considerations.

“The modern world is looking to paternity leave too and seeing its importance in the role of the baby’s development. So, I’d also recommend that they maybe spend a little bit of time reviewing the statutory requirements for paternity leave,” Theron said.

That’s a point shared by Sullivan.

“It’s again important for the father to bond with the baby as well, but understandably he won’t be an integral part of feeding the baby and everything else initially. But it’s nice to have him, maybe two weeks total or something like that, to be able to help me out as a new mother,” she said.

In Cayman, there is no stipulation under the Labour Law for fathers working in the private sector to be entitled to paternity leave. However, under the Personnel Regulations of the Public Service Management Law, “a male employee who has worked for at least 12 months is entitled to paternity leave of two working weeks, with one week on normal pay and one week without pay”.

Civil service maternity leave
30 working days on normal pay
60 working days without pay
Total: 90 working days leave

Private sector maternity leave
20 working days leave on full pay
20 working days leave on half pay
30 working days on no pay
Total: 70 working days

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