City Constab defends ‘discriminatory’ pregnancy policy –says repeal could hamper work

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The City Constabulary located in the compound of the City Hall in Georgetown.

THE policy that caused the sacking of three city constables who became pregnant before the end of their two-year probation is an “age-old” one, according to Chief Constable Andrew Foo.And he is convinced that the policy, which has been deemed discriminatory, should not be amended since a “great percentage of females [in the Constabulary]” could become pregnant.
The story of the firing of the three constables was broken yesterday by the Stabroek News (SN) after the paper had obtained copies of the letters served to the constables. Foo could not say definitively how long the three were attached to the constabulary, but he made a guess that two of the former officers had served a little under a year, while another served one year and two months.
The decision to fire two of the embattled constables was refuted by a junior rank who commented as an anonymous source. According to the rank, two of the officers had served for a year and 11 months, and were one month away from the end of their two-year probation. The rank said the two females should not have been dismissed.
Although the provisions within the policy are evidently older than Guyana’s 1980 Constitution and even Guyana’s 1997 Prevention Against Discrimination Act, Foo is also convinced that the policy is an updated one since it was revised by himself in 2013. Foo’s contention comes even as the City Constabulary’s policy stands to oppose the Constitution as the ‘supreme law’ of Guyana.
Foo, the most senior authority in the City Constabulary, said in his 27 years of service, he has always known the policy to be on the books and applicable to females, which comprise 70 percent of the Constabulary officers’ pool.
This is not the first time that a case involving the sacking of pregnant constables was ventilated in the media. Last year, two sisters were fired from the Constabulary after they confirmed their pregnancies to senior officers.
Foo recalled the two sisters had been offered the option of resigning after which they would have been allowed to re-apply to join the ranks. The chief constable disclosed that the two sisters, like the most recent trio, refused the option and instead sought to challenge the system, although they would have been eventually fired.
“The trio would have been engaged by the respective officers,” the chief constable told this publication in an interview yesterday at City Hall.
“[They] would have been spoken to and then they would’ve been brought to me, where again the policy would have been brought to their attention and we always give them the option that they can resign, and at the end of their maternity, they have the option of coming back.”
When asked whether the two sisters in the 2014 case had returned, Foo said “No,” adding, that “they were dismissed because they took the same position [as the recent trio].”
The trio, according to Foo, had challenged the system by refusing the option of resigning. They chose instead to stay on the job, “and they know that staying on would have led to their dismissal, knowing that they were pregnant.”
The recent sacking of the three constables has raised eyebrows, particularly in the city administration, since there were reports that another female constable who was known to be pregnant sometime after the two sisters in 2014, was allowed to remain on the job. The constabulary was accused of giving preferential treatment since the case was dealt with internally.
Responding to allegations that the City Constabulary afforded the one constable preferential treatment, Foo denied that any such treatment was given. He said the constable did not know she was pregnant, and denied it many times when approached by other officers.
Foo maintained that if senior officers had been aware, the constable would have been sent home.
Policies targeting pregnancy are not limited to implementation in the City Constabulary. The chief constable spoke of a similar policy existing in the GDF.
Some three years ago, a WRHM Capitol News report broadcast on television had drawn light to the policy for which female officers in the GDF had to serve a minimum of two years before becoming pregnant. That policy further extended to restrict female officers from having more than two children while serving in the force, and the children must be born two or more years apart.
The Capitol News report further exposed that a GDF female officer who breached the two-year no-pregnancy policy would be granted 28 days leave followed by two months of no-pay leave after giving birth. That officer would face a one-year deferral in promotions.
The officer could face dismissal only if she becomes pregnant a second time in the two-year period which would activate another one-year deferral. Having a two-year deferral in promotion would automatically result in dismissal from the GDF.
These provisions are in stark contrast to the policy at the City Constabulary where all five female constables in the last two years were fired even though they made clear their intention to stay on the job. Nonetheless, the existence of these policies in both the GDF and the City Constabulary has raised questions about the treatment of women in the Armed Forces.
Georgetown Mayor, Hamilton Green, who is the chief policy official in the City Council, told this publication yesterday he has taken a “fundamental position of principle” on the issue.
While touting the need for the courts to interpret the law and acknowledging he was “no constitutional lawyer,” Mayor Green remarked that in Guyana’s security services, “people, including our females, must have a sense of responsibility.”
Asked to address claims that the Constab policy was not waived before one female constable who was given preferential treatment, the Mayor denounced the claims and called for the evidence.
The Mayor, like his chief constable, appeared convinced that the policy must remain on the books. “If a female enters into a service and she is told, she is made aware of a two-year deadline, once she accepts that I expect her to be disciplined,” Green said to this publication.
The Mayor offered that since the matter appears to have some challenge to the Constitution then the Parliament would be the best place to address it. “I am not prepared to pontificate on a constitutional matter; that is a matter for the Parliament to discuss, debate, and decide on,” the Georgetown Mayor commented.
Meanwhile, protests were staged outside City Hall in Georgetown yesterday as some sections of the public challenged the rationale of utilising “age-old” laws without amending them to reflect Guyana’s constitutional and legislative provisions, as well as the country’s international obligations to defend against the discrimination of women on the base of pregnancy.
Meanwhile, the three sacked officers can call for an appeal into their dismissals at the level of the Legal Affairs Committee of the City Council. After consideration at that level, the matter would be brought to the Full Council for consideration by all of the councillors, including Mayor Green.
By Derwayne Wills