The recent pronouncement by Minister Keith Scott as it relates to the banning of single mothers who are security guards from working night shifts have been hailed by some as a good initiative. However, as golden as it may seem on the outside, one only needs to scratch the surface to reveal the inaccuracies, violations and contradictions that lie beneath. His statement is erroneous, inconsiderate and irresponsible. This initiative lacked proper consultation with those who would be directly affected and was without in-depth research. In short it is not a fit and proper policy.
The Minister while attempting to seemingly look into the interest of single mothers in this sector, is nonetheless creating an atmosphere of ill will and conflict between the female and male security guards, since there are a few men who are single dads as well and could request to work day shifts only.
The inaccuracies lie in the fact that it is not only the security guard service wherein single mothers work. There are a number of sectors such as the medical, military, para-military, call centres, hospitality, restaurant, airline, bars and night clubs, just to name a few. Are we to believe that very soon the single mothers in these sectors will be banned from the night shift?
What the Minister failed to do was to activate the tripartite process which would have provided him with the forum and opportunity to consult with the employer and workers representatives from where he would have obtained valid and relevant information as to why these women agreed to be employed in a sector where they are detailed to work nights and what they would like put in place to assist them in this regard. No mother is happy to leave her child uncared for at night. Hence, there must be some legitimate reason for her doing so.
Minister Keith Scott seems to be oblivious to the fact that because of these women’s economic position they must garner sufficient finance to pay bills and provide for the needs of their offspring.
The ban is a direct violation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights, Article 25, Sections 1-3, which provides for the right to work, free choice of employment, protection against unemployment and the right to equal pay for equal work without discrimination.
It contradicts the International Labour Organization (ILO) Decent Work Agenda which aims at fighting poverty and fostering development. The foremost is that of earning an income which allows the worker to have a good life, something that was promised by this current administration.
It also contradicts the Decent Work Check, a process which allows for the comparison of the system, where the worker is able to compare the real situation with the national regulations of the country. In this case the real situation is that a single mother is hard pressed to provide adequately for her family. She is the sole breadwinner and every dime and dollar count. To do this effectively she is left with no other option than to work those shifts that will earn her some extra income and will give her the leverage to take care of the bare necessities of life such as shelter, food, clothing, education and transportation.
House rent and mortgages are high, food and clothing follow next, education comes with a cost even though it might be via the government system, and its hardship is compounded with the taking away of the $10,000.00 per child school grant. Lastly there is transportation, since despite the David Granger buses, only secondary school children are allowed to travel on them. There are also utility bills such as water and electricity which must be paid on time to avoid disconnection. Therefore the situation when compared to the national regulations is unrealistic.
The Minister wants us to believe that his actions are just and considerate, but once again they are in violation of the ILO Decent Work Agenda which states that one cannot be discriminated against in any aspect of employment on the basis of family responsibility, the right to work and protection against occupation segregation on the basis of gender. Even though it is an age old notion that women are the principle caregivers in the family, one must not forget that family life has changed dramatically over the centuries globally.
Instead of banning night work for single mothers in the security sector and casting them into a financial dilemma, one needs to advocate for 24 hours community child care facilities which provide a service to parents who are required to work shifts, provide responsible and supervised care to children of a certain age range and provide employment to the unemployed.
In September 2015, Guyana (represented by President David Granger) attended the United Nations General Assembly. At this important meeting it was highlighted that the Decent Work and the 4 pillars of the Decent Work Agenda (employment creation, social protection, right to work and social dialogue) are now the integral elements of the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development.
The theme for International Women’s Day 2016 was ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality.’ This theme focused on how to accelerate the 2030 Agenda for the effective implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals which include achieving gender equality, empowerment of all women and women’s human rights. Despite being the Minister charged with the responsibility for Labour, it would seem that Minister Keith Scott has missed the memo on this important call to action. One must never forget that it is every person’s fundamental right to work and right to make their own choices.
Gillian Burton Persaud, MP