Lower House passes the Public Holiday (Amendment) Bill 2019

By Latrishka Thomas

Sunday is one step closer to being concretised as the 12th public holiday recognised by the laws of Antigua and Barbuda.

Yesterday, the Public Holiday (Amendment) Bill 2019 was passed in the Lower House of Parliament at which time the Minister of Legal Affairs Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin stated that a decision was made to uphold the recommendations made by stakeholders in the recent consultations.

“Antigua is over 80 percent or more Christian and what came through this discussion Mr Speaker, is the fact that we understood the significance of maintaining Sunday as a common law holiday.

“But we went further Mr Speaker, and…this government is very happy to endorse the recommendations of those persons who got together. And we will make Sunday, for the first time in Antigua and Barbuda, a recognised public holiday,” he said

Benjamin, however, highlighted that provisions have been made in the Bill to bar individuals from seeking the premium rate for working on a Sunday (150 percent) and from withholding their labour.

The Attorney General said: “Whereas on Good Friday and Christmas Day employees required to work are compensated at the rate set up in the Labour Code, this is not given to employees working on Sundays.

“The law does say that if it’s a holiday, nobody can force you to work but that doesn’t apply in this case. You see, we must understand that Antigua and Barbuda is a service society. The hotel industry, LIAT, hospital, the police, the pharmacies, the supermarkets, the dry cleaners, the small businesses — they require work on a Sunday.”

On the other hand, the amendment was met with slight resistance by some members of government, such as Minister of Health Molwyn Joseph, who questioned the significance of referring to Sunday as a holiday and suggested it be called a rest and worship day.

“We should, as a country, decide that if we accept both Sunday and Saturday as religious rest days for worship, we should so say in the law and it does not attract overtime if anyone works,” Joseph remarked.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne then acceded to that recommendation saying: “They are really rest and worship days; that’s how it should be reflected. We don’t have to continue that archaic tradition of a holiday. Sunday is not a holiday. It is really a rest and worship day and, as you said, we captured both the Adventists and the Sunday worshipers.”

However, Minister of Social Transformation, Samantha Marshall stated that the amendment should remain as agreed upon by the stakeholders.

“Based on the Bill that was presented, we had consultations with all the necessary stakeholders and the necessary stakeholders have all agreed to what is presented here. If we want to recognise further an actual worship or rest day, I think that requires us having a more holistic consultation on a number of other aspects.

“So, I believe at this stage, let us not go against what those stakeholders agreed on. Let us proceed with this but agree that this cannot be the end,” Marshall said.

The Bill was therefore passed without amendments.

Meanwhile, it was noted that a few other amendments will be made to the law.

The Public Holiday (Amendment) Bill 2019 states that “when Christmas falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday and Tuesday shall be public holidays” and “when Boxing Day falls on a Sunday, the following Monday and Tuesday shall be public holidays.”