Without amendments to the Section 37 of the Employment Act 1995, Section 83 of the Sabah Labour Ordinance and Section 84 of the Sarawak Labour Ordinance in the Dewan Rakyat, Prime Minister Najib’s grandiose 2018 Budget speech on empowering working mothers will remain nothing more than an empty rant of an election gimmick to win over women voters.

Media statement by Member of Parliament for Batu Kawan and Wanita DAP Publicity Secretary Kasthuri Patto on Sunday 17 December 2017 in Penang.

Without amendments to the Section 37 of the Employment Act 1995, Section 83 of the Sabah Labour Ordinance and Section 84 of the Sarawak Labour Ordinance in the Dewan Rakyat, Prime Minister Najib’s grandiose 2018 Budget speech on empowering working mothers will remain nothing more than an empty rant of an election gimmick to win over women voters.

On 27th October 2017, Prime Minister and Finance Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in his 2018 Budget speech mentioned to the pleasure of the MPs in the August House and to all women outside on revised 60 to 90 day maternity leave for expectant mothers in the private sector.

This was followed up by Deputy Minister of Human Resources Datuk Seri Ismail Abd Muttalib stating that private sector employers can be investigated and prosecuted if they dismiss female staff who take 90 days maternity leave and cited provisions of the Federal Constitution that everyone had equal rights including in employment. However, in the same vein, he also claimed that “there is no specific clause stating that private sector employers cannot terminate the service of a female worker for taking 90 days maternity leave, we have to uphold the principle law which is the Federal Constitution”.

What is it then, Mr Minister? Go on 90 days maternity leave and face the possibility of being sacked because there are no specific laws to execute this new recommendation? This birdbrained statement certainly comes as a shock from the Ministry of Human Resources, and is a red flag for new working mothers to look out for.

There is no point nor purpose in reporting the matter to the authorities while investigation is in process as it is not only time consuming and troublesome for the already distressed mother, post-pregnancy and to her family, but also gravely ambiguous.

Nothing can be done as the present legislation only states 60 days for maternity leave. Will this be part of the amendment?

Will the mother be subjected to a ‘paid maternity leave’ salary scheme, or will her salary be withheld, pending investigations? These are the things that the Deputy Minister for Human Resource needs to address and explain for the understanding of mothers on their maternity leave rather than camouflaging behind the Prime Minister’s budget speech which does not hold any water and has no legal standing to be implemented.

The first phase of this implementation will include dialogues between stakeholders and employers and the second phase on amendments to the relevant employment and labour laws in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah dan Sarawak.

What are these amendments and why hasn’t the Prime Minister nor the Ministry of Human Resources stated them clearly? When will the consultative process start?

It is important to note, that even if Section 37 of Employment Act 1955, Section 83 of Sabah Labour Ordinance and Section 84 of the Sarawak Labour Ordinance are all amended on maternity leave, it will only benefit some women in the workforce, not all. The Employment Act 1955 only covers working women whose salary is RM2000 and below and the Sabah and Sarawak Labour Ordinance only covers women whose salary is below RM2500. Will the salary cap be removed in the amendment?

The devil is certainly in the details.

The BN Government had 12 whole months of 2017 to table and make legislative amendments related to employment laws protecting both employer and employees on maternity leave application in the private sector. But as usual, nothing happened. It is not surprising anymore as we are dealing with a Government that clearly lacks political will and is full of half-baked proposals.

While I believe that the move to grant a 90 day maternity leave to new mothers is timely and will be immensely beneficial to the family structure and support system, however with the lack of binding laws in place, some within the public sector may quietly opt out of this.

According to a 2014 data by the WORLD Policy Analysis Center on countries that have or advocate maternity leave, there are 9 countries with zero weeks of maternity leave, 83 nations between 0 to 14 weeks maternity leave, 53 nations with 14 to 25 weeks, 18 countries with 26 to 51 weeks and finally 36 countries with more than 52 weeks of maternity leave.

The International Labour Organization recommends that women be guaranteed at least 14 weeks of paid maternity leave. While majority of low and middle income nations like Gambia and Bangladesh offer some form of paid leave to mothers, more progressive nations like Canada, Norway and Sweden allocate at least 26 weeks of paid leave for new mothers. Surprisingly, Russia provides 100 percent of paid salary for women on 140 days of maternity leave.

It is poor logic to make baseless claims that more privileges for the new mother in terms of maternity leave may lead to more babies when the focus should be on strengthening the bond between mother and infant and at the same time on constructing a firm foundation on the family structure and preparing the mother, emotionally and physically in her preparation to juggle between work life and motherhood – which many mothers have excelled at.

According to Jody Heymann, the founding director of WORLD Policy Analysis Center and Dean of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, most countries have recognized that maternity leave is critical to the success of their economy and that countries can choose to either work with half of their workforce or compete with their full workforce, which require paid maternity leave.

Be that as it may, what Datuk Seri Najib Razak as Finance Minister and Prime Minister, including the Minister of Human Resources and the Minister for Women, Family and Community Development should have done after the announcement in the Dewan Rakyat was to table an extension of the Parliament sitting to debate the Employment Act 1955 with regards to maternity leave, so that come January 2018, a clear, workable mechanism is set in place so that private sectors that support this move will have no problem executing it.

If the Government respects the contributions of the working mother, and is genuinely sincere in empowering working mothers, it must amend all legislations that will favour protecting the rights of working women and working mothers or as an alternative, table a separate legislation that will cover and protect the rights of working women, irrespective of their job scopes and salary scale. This new legislation must also include breastfeeding facilities at their workplace, affordable childcare accommodation, parental leave for both fathers and mothers to tend to a sick child and other provisions that will bring reform to how the Government views working mothers.

Without amendments to the Section 37 of the Employment Act 1995, Section 83 of the Sabah Labour Ordinance and Section 84 of the Sarawak Labour Ordinance in the Dewan Rakyat, Prime Minister Najib’s grandiose 2018 Budget speech on empowering working mothers will remain nothing more than an empty rant of an election gimmick to win over women voters.

Kasthuri Patto
Member of Parliament for Batu Kawan
Publicity Secretary of Wanita DAP
Democratic Action Party

By | 2017-12-18T01:35:18+00:00 December 18th, 2017|Media Statements|Comments Off on Without amendments to the Section 37 of the Employment Act 1995, Section 83 of the Sabah Labour Ordinance and Section 84 of the Sarawak Labour Ordinance in the Dewan Rakyat, Prime Minister Najib’s grandiose 2018 Budget speech on empowering working mothers will remain nothing more than an empty rant of an election gimmick to win over women voters.

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