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Women's Rights

  • The Straits Times (08 August 2009) : Women's Rights
  • The Straits Times Online (03 August 2009) : Provide Better Protection for Women in Workforce
  • The Straits Times (06 August 2009) : Pregnancy No Guarantee Against Job Loss


Women's Rights
- The Straits Times, 08 August 2009

       I refer to the letters by Ms Chin Hwee Chin ("Provide better protection for pregnant women in workforce", ST Forum Online, 3 August 2009) and Yeh Siang Hui ("Pregnancy no guarantee against job loss", ST Forum, 6 August 2009).

2.   We would like to clarify Mr Yeh's comment on the maternity leave benefits of female employees in executive positions. Female employees, including managerial and executive staff, are entitled to maternity leave benefits if they meet the qualifying conditions under the Children Development Co-Savings Act or the Employment Act. The laws also protect them against unfair dismissal during pregnancy and from being denied their maternity benefits if they are retrenched.

3.   Employers and employees are encouraged to work out mutually beneficial arrangements to minimise the impact on business operations during the maternity leave period. The option to take the last 8 weeks of maternity leave flexibly over a period of 12 months is one way to balance both parties' needs. Contrary to Mr Yeh's belief, the Government shares with employers the cost of providing maternity leave benefits to eligible female employees. Specifically, the Government is paying for the last 8 weeks of maternity leave for the first two births and the full 16 weeks for the third and subsequent births.

4.   With regards to Ms Chin's case, we would like to invite her to contact us at (65)6317 1182 or email us at MOM would like to ascertain whether this is a case of retrenchment or unfair dismissal.

5.   If it is found to be a case of retrenchment, the law requires employers who retrench an employee in the last three months of her pregnancy to still pay the maternity leave benefits. Maternity leave benefits are distinct from any other retrenchment benefits paid by the companies to affected employees.

6.   If it is found to be a case of unfair dismissal, the employer may be ordered to reinstate the employee, or to compensate her. In addition, maternity leave benefits would have to be paid if the unfair dismissal occurred during the last six months of pregnancy.


Provide Better Protection for Pregnant Women in Workforce
- The Straits Times Online, 03 August 2009

I am five months pregnant with my first child and my services with a large American multinational company will be terminated by the month-end.

I have appealed repeatedly to the company to reconsider my maternity benefits payout but in vain. The company has refused outright my appeal in alignment with the Employment Act, which states:

'Maternity leave benefits will be payable even if the pregnant employee is retrenched within the last three months of pregnancy.'

In my current situation, I will probably be at a disadvantage in my job search. As I am not entitled to a maternity benefits payout on retrenchment, the financial burden to my family will increase with medical consultancy and delivery fees ahead.

Another clause in the Employment Act states: 'Maternity leave benefits will be payable even if the pregnant employee is dismissed without sufficient cause within the last six months of pregnancy, which includes termination of employment with or without notice.'

According to the company's unofficial definition, 'termination without sufficient cause' and 'retrenchment' can be used interchangeably. This causes more confusion over eligibility for the maternity benefits payout on terminating the services of a pregnant employee.

I believe I am not the only pregnant woman caught in such a situation and I hope the Ministry of Manpower will review the Employment Act to provide better protection to pregnant women, in alignment with the Government's encouragement of couples to procreate.


Pregnancy No Guarantee Against Job Loss
- The Straits Times, 06 August 2009

I refer to Ms Chin Hwee Chin's Forum Online letter on Monday, 'Provide better protection for pregnant women in workforce'. Ms Chin did not say if she falls into a category of people expressly excluded from receiving maternity leave benefits by the Employment Act (Cap 91).

For instance, she may be in an executive position and thus is not an employee by definition under the Act - even if she may be an employee by her company's definition. She was correct that the Act provides that maternity benefits are payable even if the pregnant employee is retrenched in the last three months of pregnancy. However, she was five, and not six, months pregnant when her letter was written, and thus, she was not in the last three months of her pregnancy.

Accordingly, nothing in the Act, or in law, prevents her employer from retrenching her. Her letter gives the impression that there is a blanket prohibition on the dismissal of any pregnant employee per se. This is not so. A pregnant employee may be dismissed at any time as long as there is sufficient cause legally. In her letter, she did not shed any light on whether her employer may have terminated her services on justifiable grounds, such as misconduct or poor performance on her part.

In all, her employer acted within the law. The Government's encouragement of couples to procreate should not be misinterpreted as an implied licence to do so at an employer's expense.

Birth rates were much higher three or four decades ago than now, yet couples willingly procreated and raised children in the absence of the comprehensive set of incentives in place today. Ms Chin - and other like-minded pregnant women in employment - fails to understand the damage and loss caused to an employer (especially small and medium-sized enterprises) by having to maintain on its payroll an employee who, throughout her maternity leave, saddles her colleagues with heavier workloads, does not contribute to the company's revenue and causes loss to the company by continuing to draw pay. In the light of the counter-balancing needs and interests of employers, the law more than adequately protects pregnant employees, and thus needs no review.