Singapore: Protect the rights of all pregnant women workers

Posted by Sinapan Samydorai under Opinions on 22 June 2007

Both local and foreign women workers are getting fired for being pregnant. She learnt from MOM that the company had not acted unlawfully, and it did not need to compensate her. The employer knew the loopholes in the labour law.

All working women should have the right to 12 weeks maternity leave. Is it fair and just treatment to discriminate a pregnant women by terminating her service - whether she is 3 months or 6 months pregnant? The empoyer should have move her to a lighter and less demanding job - not fire her! Is Maternity Leave a right not to be bargained or subjugated with?

Moreover, any migrant women worker, work permit holder, found pregnant will be fired and send home to their country of origin. All foreign domestic workers are required to have regular pregnancy test - to determine whether they are pregnant.

Time for all working women to have their rights protected with fair and just treatment - including employment protection and non-discrimination. There must be no space for discrimination just because they are women. The labour law must protect the rights of all women workers.

In Singapore, for local and migrant women workers, getting pregnant means losing job. Pregnancy seems to have become a crime and migrant women abort their babies to stay in their jobs. Is Singapore enforcing discriminative laws against pregnant migrant women workers?


As a developed country Singapore should ratify and implement the following ILO recommendatsion:

R191 Maternity Protection Recommendation, 2000
includes Employment protection and non-discrimination

C183 Maternity Protection Convention, 2000
SEE the ratifications for this Convention

C156 Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention, 1981
SEE the ratifications for this Convention [Japan, Republic of Korea]

Conventions: C103 Maternity Protection Convention (Revised), 1952
SEE the ratifications for this Convention [Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea]

Sacked for being pregnant
Justwomen, AsiaOne

When Mrs Valerie Chan landed a job as an operations executive at a global conference company last July, she thought she had found an employer who supported work-life balance for employees.

At her job interview, she told her prospective employer about her plans to start a family, and was assured that the company was pro-family life.

But things took an unexpected turn after seven months on the job when she found out she was pregnant.

The managing director of the company announced that the training department she was attached to would be downsized. In addition, the operations staff were also informed that they now had to travel at least two weeks a month on work assignments.

Mrs Chan, 28, was asked to go because the company felt that she could not meet the constant travelling demands.

Yesterday, Mrs Chan wrote to AsiaOne, asking if there were any organisations or associations which could help her.

She wrote: "With the government's efforts to promote work-life harmony and family life, I am appalled and disappointed that women still contend with issues such as getting sacked for being pregnant."

When AsiaOne spoke to Ms Chan, she clarified that she was willing to travel, if her physical condition allowed her to.

She said: "Of course at the point of retrenchment, it did not seem like I was able to travel as I was still experiencing nausea in my first trimester. No one could tell at that point of time whether this will carry on throughout my pregnancy or whether it will cease."

Now saddled with housing loans, medical bills and aged parents to care for, and not to mention the impending arrival of a new baby, she looked to the Ministry of Manpower to explore alternative options of compensation.

But she learnt that the company had not acted unlawfully, and it did not need to compensate her.

Mrs Chan said: "I feel that employers nowadays are very smart. They know the loopholes in the law. I was retrenched not because of poor work attitude or performance - just that at that point, my condition was unsuitable for travel.

"How can the government expect women to start families at a younger age and have more children? Just giving incentives is not enough to attract. Ultimately, it is the bread and butter issues that count. My loss of income if I did not find a job is many times more than the baby bonus of $3,000."

It is a problem faced by many pregnant employees in Singapore even today. In June last year, corporate account manager Lau Li Nah lost her maternity benefits when she was sacked from her job. She was five months pregnant then.

Her case was highlighted when she wrote in to The Straits Times Forum.

In 2005, there were at least 78 cases of people who sought help from the Manpower Ministry to claim their maternity benefits.

Under current laws, a woman with six months service is entitled to paid maternity leave.

If she is dismissed without adequate reason within three months before the birth, the employer must still grant her paid maternity leave.

However, this still allows employers to sack an employee who is one to five months' pregnant, without compensating her maternity benefits.

AsiaOne readers who wrote in to comment on Mrs Chan's plight felt that employers have other costs to be concerned with and a pregnant employee who proved unsuitable for work would be let go.

One reader, Terry Chang, said that companies also have overheads to worry about and should only be obliged to retain older workers with past contributions to the company.

Mrs Chan has since found a contract job with another IT company.

But although she felt fortunate to be employed again, it is hardly any consolation as she has lost all her maternity benefits, and also faces the prospect of unemployment again after her three-month contract ends.

Her current job pays her about $200 less than her previous salary. And while she still has her husband's financial support in daily living expenses, she still wonders how she will cope with the upcoming medical bills and housing loans that they have on hand.

Ms Chan said:"My mother has medical problems. My older brother is currently unemployed and I have a younger brother who is about to enter university.

"The thought of not being unemployed for at least nine months from my retrenchment is very disturbing."

Sources and Relevant Links:

Asiaone Sacked for being pregnant21 June 2007

Today Protect, don't dismiss, pregnant women workers 08 April 2007

HRW Foreign women workers: Restrictions on Reproductive and Marriage Rights

HRW Maid to Order: Ending Abuses Against Migrant Domestic Workers in Singapore

Think Centre More than respect for the rights of women 07 March 2007

New Paper / Think Centre SUPPORT SINGLE MUMS & POOR FAMILIES 17 June 2007

Think Centre Thai Government To Deport Pregnant Foreign Workers 27 December 2004

December 2004, more then 9,300 pregnant migrant women from Burma, Cambodia and Laos face deportation. Pregnancy has become a crime and is forcing migrant women to abort their babies.

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