By Elesha George
Sunday will become the official twelfth public holiday in Antigua and Barbuda if legislators vote in Parliament for the proposed amendment to the Public Holidays Act.
After weeks of consultations, it seems that a consensus has been reached regarding how Sundays will be treated in law. On Friday, October, 18th, 2019, stakeholders gathered in the Parliament building for the latest discussions to address the issue of compensation for work done on Sundays.
In the current Public Holidays Act CAP 354, Good Friday, Christmas Day and all Sundays are observed as common-law holidays in Antigua and Barbuda, but holiday remuneration is only applied for the aforementioned first two holidays. The change agreed upon yesterday, will clarify that Sundays will not attract holiday remunerative pay.
Employees, who, in their contractual agreement, recognise that the establishment operates on a Sunday and agree to work on these days, will not be paid at a premium rate. As long as the Sunday is within the 40 hours a week, or 5 days a week working cycle, Sunday will be treated as a regular working day.
In instances where an employee has already worked his or her required 40 hours for the week, working on a Sunday will attract additional compensation, as stated by the country’s Labour Code or the business’ contractual agreement with its employee.
During the consultations, Industrial Relations Practitioner, Anderson Carty, raised an issue which would arise if Sunday was to be observed as an official public holiday. He correctly argued that it would leave room for employees to decline coming to work, while still being compensated since all public holidays attract premium pay under the nation’s Labour Code.
Deniscia Thomas, the Parliamentary Counsel told OBSERVER that drafters will exempt Sundays from that particular observance in the Labour Code, explaining, “what was discussed or what was added is the idea that on a public holiday, normally workers would have the right to say: “I don’t want to work on this particular day because it is a public holiday, “and they are in fact not to be penalised under the law because they have that right.”
A problem would arise she said if “an individual may decide every Sunday, whenever he or she is scheduled to work, to say I’m not going and there’d be no recourse for the employer.”
To remedy the problem, drafters will amend clauses of the Public Holidays Act to state “for the purpose of C 14 (1), which deals with your right to say that you’re not working on a public holiday, and for the purpose of C (15) which deals with compensation for working on public holidays, those things will not apply to Sunday.”
The amendment to the Public Holidays Act also introduces Christmas Day as the third official public holiday and Good Friday as the fifth.
Additional changes have been made which state, “Where Christmas Day falls on a Saturday or a Sunday, the following Monday and Tuesday shall be public holidays.”
The same will be observed for Sir Vere Cornwall Bird Snr. Day, which will be listed as the tenth official public holiday.