JIS News

A Joint Select Committee of Parliament has recommended a maximum 12-hour work day to replace the current 8-10 hour work days, under proposed Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA) in Jamaica.
Under this arrangement, workers’ normal work week would still cover 40 hours, but these hours could extend over any combination of days over the seven days of the week and overtime would trip in after 40 hours are completed.
On the controversial issue of Sundays being included as a normal working day, the Committee said that if persons are denied the right to worship, the law would protect them. The law would also protect persons from being dismissed because of their religion.
Minister of Labour and Social Security, the Hon Pearnel Charles, explained, however, that while it is incumbent on employers/employees to negotiate a work week that is no more than 40 hours, it was recognized that in certain industries it may be permissible for the work week to be extended beyond 40 hours by agreement between employer and employee.
The House of Representatives began debating the recommendations on Tuesday (February 10), nearly a decade after a Green Paper on FWA was tabled in 2001 and referred to a Joint Select Committee (JSC) which failed to deliver. The current Government appointed a new committee in 2008, chaired by Mr.Charles, which has tabled the report being debated.
Opening the debate, Mr. Charles informed the House that considerable progress was made and deliberations completed under his chairmanship.
“The current global recession has made it even more imperative for Jamaica to embark on the much needed (labour) reform at this time,” Mr. Charles said.
He noted that several persons have been made redundant, as companies struggle to stay afloat, and a Flexible Working Arrangement policy could go a far way in alleviating the challenges being faced by both employers and workers.
Mr. Charles noted that the concept of flexible work hours is characterized by a variable work schedule. For example, the traditional 9 am to 5 pm work day is replaced by variations in the starting and end time of the work day, the number of hours worked each day, the number of days worked each week and the days of the week on which the employee works.
It also includes part-time work with benefits offering the worker the flexibility of working for part-time hours, while still being able to access benefits such as group life insurance, pro-rated vacation leave and sick leave. There is also the concept of telecommuting, which allows the employee to work from a location other than the central workplace, such as home.
Job-sharing is where several part-time employees share one full-time job, and the full-time salary is divided according to the hours worked. The work week may also be compressed, allowing the worker to choose to undertake the traditional 40-hour work week over a shorter span of days.
“For example, the worker can decide to complete his 40-hour work week over a span of four days, instead of the traditional five work days. This is referred to as the four ten schedule. The worker would then have three days off in the week,” Mr. Charles explained.
He said that flexibility and freedom to negotiate were key features of the arrangements, but employees would have to negotiate their days and hours of work with their employers, as it would constitute a variation of the current employment contract, which cannot be done unilaterally.
Mr. Charles pointed out that Flexible Work Arrangements are not new to the Jamaican labour landscape, as it can be seen in several sectors such as night and shift work in health, transportation, security, manufacturing, communications, tourism, hospitality and mining.
During the committee’ hearings, a number of issues were raised by several interested parties, including the West Indies Union of Seventh Day Adventists; the Concerned Church Leaders group; the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce; and the Bureau of Women’s Affairs.
The committee also reviewed the views of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU), the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), the Jamaica Manufacturers Association (JMA) and the Association of Women’s Organisation of Jamaica (AWOJ).
Mr. Charles, in seeking to allay concerns raised by some of the groups highlighted what he said were several advantages to Flexible Work Arrangements, such as: increased productivity and cost-effectiveness within companies; a more attractive investment climate; increased employment; more time for family and personal interests; reduced absenteeism; increased taxes; less transportation and meal costs per week; and less traffic congestion during peak hours.
Furthermore, he said there would be more efficient use of capital resources; wider service to customers due to varied opening hours and business days; and workers being able to coordinate work hours with school hours and parental duties.
In terms of the issue of special consideration for Sundays as a day of worship, Mr. Charles urged compromise and understanding.
“Employers and employees should work out a position of compromise and understanding at the workplace, that would take into consideration the rights of the employee to a day of rest,” Mr. Charles said.
He also noted that the laws would have to be amended to legitimize women working at nights. The recommendations also called for restrictive clauses in several other pieces of legislation to be amended to accommodate the proposed feature, as well as the implementation of a public education campaign.
Expressing support for the recommendations, Opposition Member of Parliament for South St. Catherine, Fitz Jackson noted that the report came at a time when employment is in high demand.
He added that they would enable employers to exercise more flexibility in the workforce that they engage, allowing more people to be employed in a particular entity. He said it also allows for greater cooperation between employers and employees.