While the recent approval by Parliament of changes to the Civil Code and other laws to extend maternity leave from 12 to 16 weeks and introduce a seven-day paternity leave was applauded by many, there are economic consequences. Government’s original proposal was to make it 14 weeks as the minimum recommended by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), but two weeks more were added based on an amendment proposed by United Democrats (UD) faction member Tamara Leonard.

She had first wanted 18 weeks for mothers and two weeks for fathers, but thankfully realised this would put too much of burden on employers. Nevertheless, the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) still has some concerns (see related story).

For starters, although Social and Health Insurances SZV reimburses 80 per cent of salaries for female workers insured there when on pregnancy leave, that is not regulated yet for men. The latter would require legal adjustments.

However, this compensation does not exist for employees in a higher income bracket with private health coverage. In their case the business must cover the full extra cost of adding four weeks for mothers and giving fathers seven days.

Mind you, the changes won’t take effect right away, as confirmed by acting Minister of Public Health, Social Affairs and Labour VSA Leona Romeo-Marlin during Wednesday’s press briefing. The revised Civil Code must come back to government and be sent on to the Governor for his blessings, while it is also still to be vetted by the Ombudsman as guardian of the country’s Constitution.

The final step is publication in the National Gazette. This entire process could take several months.

That also means there may be time for some tweaking. It was mentioned that to qualify for paternity leave the applicants must be related to the new-born by marriage or recognition of the child.

These are logical conditions, but some are suggesting adding being part of the household where the infant will reside. After all, an existing marriage or even having recognised the child does little to ensure recipients will spend these seven days off for what they were intended, especially when not living with the mother.