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Written Answer by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister & Minister for Finance and Minister for Manpower, to Parliamentary Question on Employment of Female Employees who are Pregnant

Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Manpower if the Ministry will consider making it mandatory for employers to continue employing female employees who are pregnant, throughout their pregnancy, and not just within six months before the birth of their child.

Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam:

The Government does not condone the discrimination of female employees due to their pregnancy or maternity. The Employment Act (EA) today already allows any employee, including female employees in any stages of pregnancy, to appeal to the Minister for Manpower if they feel that they have been unfairly dismissed. If the Minister finds that the employee has been dismissed without just cause, he may then reinstate the employee or order compensation to be paid to her.

Recognising that some employers may be tempted to dismiss their pregnant employees before their due date, the EA further requires an employer who dismisses a pregnant female employee without sufficient cause within the last six months of her pregnancy to pay her the maternity benefits that she would otherwise be entitled to under the Act.

While the Government protects pregnant female employees against unfair dismissals, we must also be mindful that employers will be less inclined to hire women of childbearing age if we over-prescribe the protection of pregnant employees in our laws. This ultimately affects the employability of a wider group of workers.

MOM last reviewed the protection for pregnant female employees in 2008, when we extended the protection period for female employees from the last three months of pregnancy to the last six months of pregnancy. In our current review of the Employment Act, we are consulting our tripartite partners on whether there is scope to further extend the protection period, without compromising female employability.

At the same time, we acknowledge that legislation cannot be a complete solution to achieve fair employment outcomes. We need to work with our tripartite partners to change mindsets and ensure that we build an inclusive society that recognises fair treatment and equal opportunities. To this end, MOM has been working closely with employers and unions through the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) to promote fair, responsible and merit-based employment practices.