Although women constitute a significant proportion of the workforce in Guyana, there is no specific legal protection against discrimination in the workplace.
This is according to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in its report on core labour standards in Guyana, published to coincide with the World Trade Organisation’s.
The Prevention of Discrimination Act of 1997 imposes an obligation on every employer to pay equal remuneration to men and women performing work of equal value.
However, the same Act prohibits dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy and women who are discriminated against on those grounds can appeal to the Ombudsman and utilise the services of the Legal Aid Clinic.
According to the report, trade unions have highlighted the lack of effective procedures dealing with filing complaints on discrimination in general, since pregnancy is not the only ground on which women are discriminated against.
The report which was released over a month ago states that there is no provision for mandatory maternity or paternity leave.
The government, the report stated, has indicated that there has been no recourse to the courts regarding sexual harassment, although incidents have certainly occurred.
Job vacancy notices routinely specify the sex of the candidate employee and the continuing existence of traditionally male- or female-dominated areas of work make it clear that work in Guyana is largely divided along gender lines, it stated.
According to the report, it was also estimated that half the women in Guyana live in conditions of poverty and that one third of female heads of households are living in absolute poverty.
Informal workers, mainly women and children, are paid less than the minimum wage, according to the ITUC report.
At the same time, women occupy the majority of positions within the public sector, and loan conditionality from the international lending institutions that demand a smaller public sector stand to have disproportionate impact on women.
In order to apply and actively promote the Prevention of Discrimination Act, the government established a Women’s Affairs Bureau in the Ministry of Labour, it noted, in order to monitor the legal rights of women, and provide employment-related services and seminars on leadership and gender equity for women throughout the country.
The government has further established the Indigenous Peoples’ Commission and the Women and Gender Equality Commission and executed various activities and programmes under the auspices of the Guyana National Plan of Action for Women, including the establishment of the Guyana Women’s Leadership Institute, Gender Sensitive Initiatives of the Ministry of Education, and training and outreach programmes.
However, the report noted that there is little access to education for girls outside the capital.
Guyana had signed on to the Equal Remuneration and Convention on Discrimination (Employment and Occupation), both in 1975. The law prohibits discrimination based on gender.
But according to the ITUC report, female unemployment is much higher than that of men.
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