The State has been ordered to pay compensation to a Ministry of Education employee, who was only allowed to access a portion of her maternity leave because her contract had almost elapsed.
In a judgment delivered late last week, Industrial Court president Deborah Thomas-Felix and member Kyril Jack ruled that the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) acted harshly, oppressively and contrary to the principles and practices of good industrial relations by failing to grant full maternity benefits under the Maternity Protection Act to Ria Ramkissoon in 2010.
“The Act does not provide for a pregnant woman to receive a part or portion of the maternity leave to which she is entitled. This is not contemplated at all,” the Industrial Court Judges said.
According to the evidence presented in the case, in July 2010, Ramkissoon, a school clerical officer, applied for 93 days of maternity and vacation leave.
The CPO informed Ramkissoon that as her three-year contract was due to end in September that year, she should only apply for maternity leave for the remaining period of her contract.
Ramkissoon complied and was given a new contract when she was ready to return to work after the birth of her baby.
In defence of the trade dispute, brought by the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), the CPO claimed the policy was developed for fixed-term workers such as Ramkissoon.
Thomas-Felix and Jack challenged the suggestion as they noted that the CPO had neglected to reveal that Ramkissoon was on her second three-year contract when she applied for the leave and has been given several successive contracts since she was able to return to work.
Stating that Ramkissoon was employed for an indefinite period, the judges said: “It is the ruling of this Court that the CPO’s decision to disguise the true nature of the legal employment relationship between the parties and thereby deprive the worker of her legal rights and benefits, is not in accord with the principles of equity and good conscience.”
The judges stated that the fact that Ramkissoon’s contract was running down was immaterial to her right to access maternity leave as she should have been able to benefit equally as a permanent worker.
“The Act provides, that when a woman meets the requirements of Section 7, she shall proceed on maternity leave and she has a right to receive all the benefits and protection which are provided by the law even if, the is, unfortunately, a miscarriage,” they said.
As part of the decision, the judges ordered the CPO to pay Ramkissoon compensation for the remainder of her maternity leave that she was unable to access, almost a decade ago. They also ordered the State to pay her an additional $8,000 in damages.
The CPO was given until August 14 to make the payments.
The OWTU was represented by Gary Andrews while Rachel Birbal-Seesahai represented the ministry. The CPO was represented by Sherraine Genas.