Thursday 10 November 2011

Law protects contract and part-time pregnant employees too

WE REFER to the letters on employment protection for pregnant contract employees ('Improve job security for pregnant contract employees' by Ms Salinahwati Mohd Ali, last Wednesday; 'Gaps in government measures, says Aware' and 'Unfair pregnancy queries' by Dr Yik Keng Yeong, both last Saturday; and 'Employer-employee ties: Mutual trust vital' by Dr David Tan Hsien Yung, Monday).

Under the law, employees are entitled to statutory benefits, including paid maternity leave, within their period of employment.

The benefits and protection are extended to employees, regardless of whether they are on permanent or contract employment, or on full-time or part-time employment. In addition, the Employment Act prohibits unfair dismissal at any stage of pregnancy.

If Ms Salinahwati had been found to be unfairly dismissed on account of her pregnancy, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) would not have hesitated to order her employer to reinstate or compensate her.

These provisions are in line with our international obligations under the United Nations' Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw).

In the case of Ms Salinahwati, her employer had signed a service agreement to provide services to a multinational corporation (MNC).

The MNC had exercised its contractual right under the service agreement to terminate the services of her employer. It was this that resulted in the termination of her contract of employment, not her pregnancy.

Ms Salinahwati's employment contract would also have expired two months before her estimated delivery date in January. She would therefore not have been eligible for maternity leave benefits, even if her contract had run its due course.

Nonetheless, the ministry is assisting her in mediation with the employer for an ex gratia payment.

The ministry regularly reviews our employment provisions with the tripartite partners with a view to achieving a reasonable outcome that addresses and balances the concerns of both employees and employers.

Aggrieved employees are advised to contact the ministry for assistance. They can e-mail or call the MOM hotline on 6438-5122, so that their case can be properly investigated.

Farah Abdul Rahim (Ms)
Director, Corporate Communications
Ministry of Manpower
ST Forum, 10 Nov 2011

Improve job security for pregnant contract employees

I WAS nearly six months pregnant when my employer issued a contract termination letter, giving me a month's notice. The reason given for the termination was company reorganisation.

When I reported the matter to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), I was taken through two fruitless mediation sessions, one with MOM, and another with MOM and the company.

I was very disappointed to learn that I was not covered under the current employment laws as my contract was terminated before my due date. Why doesn't the law protect pregnant employees like me?

I was also told that under the law, a firm is not obliged to pay any maternity benefit to contract staff even if it terminates the contract of a pregnant employee a day before she gives birth. Is this fair?

I experienced the same situation when I was pregnant with my second child in 2004, and my then employer terminated my contract when I was less than three months pregnant.

MOM must review the current law to improve job security for pregnant employees. The ministry should also look into fair employment policies, for example, the minimum payment packages offered by employers, which are so low that locals with commitments are unable to accept them and the jobs will eventually end up with foreigners.

I remain unemployed because the temporary jobs I was offered by other companies would have netted me a take-home pay of $800, or almost two-thirds less than what I earned at the firm which terminated my contract.

Salinahwati Mohd Ali,
ST Forum, 2 Nov 2011

Gaps in government measures, says AWARE

MS SALINAHWATI Mohd Ali's letter ('Improve job security for pregnant contract employees'; Wednesday) reveals a gap in current government measures to protect pregnant women.

Contract workers who are pregnant have been left out of these special provisions, and this lack of protection is contrary to the requirements of the United Nations' Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw).

The convention, which Singapore is party to, obliges the Government to 'prohibit, subject to the imposition of sanctions, dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy or maternity leave'. The State is expected to take steps to ensure that pregnant women can continue to work. These include contract workers.

Laws protecting pregnant women should not apply only to permanent staff. This is a gap. The law should be extended to include pregnant contract workers.

In addition, the law has another gap as it is effected only after the first trimester. Thus, employers who fire pregnant women before they reach the fourth month of pregnancy can get away with such discriminatory practices. The law needs to be further strengthened by removing this limitation on the first trimester.

Lastly, in the absence of an anti-discrimination law, which we contend is essential, there ought to be enhanced and targeted public education on fair employment practices among employers.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices is active in this area, but efforts appear to fall short as dismissals among pregnant women continue.

Braema Mathi (Ms)
Chair, Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), Cedaw committee
ST Forum, 5 Nov 2011

Unfair pregnancy queries

MS SALINAHWATI Mohd Ali ('Improve job security for pregnant contract workers'; Wednesday) highlights a discriminatory practice quite prevalent in the private sector that the Ministry of Manpower must address.

When doctors conduct pre-employment medical check-ups, female candidates must declare whether they think they are pregnant, and doctors must check their status.

This should be disallowed as it gives potential male and non-pregnant candidates an unfair advantage in employment prospects.

It should also be unlawful to question a woman whether she intends to get pregnant in the near future as this provides reason for bias.

While employed, many women who then get pregnant are discriminated against by unenlightened employers, who craft any number of ways to terminate their services.

As Ms Salinahwati rightly concluded, the reason her latest company terminated her services - company re-organisation - is one such cynical excuse.

Feigning goodwill, the sack may also come with the disingenuous justification that further employment would be hazardous to maternal and foetal health.

That pregnant women are overly emotional, irrational and unproductive is a matter of opinion and not fact; it is supported only by anecdotal evidence.

The law must protect pregnant employees and impose prohibitive penalties against bosses who discriminate against such staff.

The exclusion by insurers of pregnancy-related medical conditions should also be reviewed, especially at a time when the low birthrate is such an acute concern.

Dr Yik Keng Yeong,
ST Forum, 5 Nov 2011

Employer-employee ties: Mutual trust vital

WHILE I agree that it may be considered discriminatory for employers to ask if female job seekers intend to get pregnant ('Unfair pregnancy queries' by Dr Yik Keng Yeong; last Saturday), I can understand their position because of manpower planning concerns.

This trend is but one symptom of a wider underlying distrust that employers have for workers or potential employees.

Employers insist that employees provide proof of medical leave rather than allowing them to call in sick, and sometimes even restrict them to visiting only government polyclinics, refusing to recognise medical certificates issued by private doctors.

Employees sometimes justify this mistrust by joining a company with the intention of leaving after they have consumed their four months of maternity leave, or taking unwarranted medical leave just to get a long weekend off.

It takes two hands to clap, with employers needing to trust their workers more, and employees reciprocating that trust by going to work with the right attitude.

Dr David Tan Hsien Yung,
ST Forum, 7 Nov 2011

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