The Public Holidays Amendment Bill was passed in the Lower House, on Tuesday October 29, without any changes made.
Sundays are now acknowledge as public holidays but do not attract premium pay rate (150 percent). The day was previously marked as a common law holiday where employees were not paid premium pay if it fell between a 48 hour work week.
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.
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.”
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.”
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 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.”