90-day maternity leave remains empty rant without changes to law

Kasthuri_PattoPETALING JAYA: Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto has urged Putrajaya to explain how the 90-day maternity leave provision is to be implemented when the necessary amendments to the present laws have not been made.

The Wanita DAP publicity secretary said without amendments to 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, the provision announced by Prime Minister Najib Razak in the 2018 Budget speech was meaningless.

She said the stated aim of empowering working mothers would remain nothing more than an empty rant and an election gimmick to win over women voters.

“It is important to note, that even if Section 37 of the Employment Act 1955, Section 83 of Sabah Labour Ordinance and Section 84 of the Sarawak Labour Ordinance are all amended on the maternity leave provision, it will only benefit some women in the workforce, not all.

“The Employment Act 1955 only covers working women whose salary is RM2,000 and below and the Sabah and Sarawak Labour Ordinance only covers women whose salary is below RM2,500. Will the salary cap be removed in the amendment?”

Kasthuri also slammed Human Resources Deputy Minister Ismail Abd Muttalib for his statements on the 90-day maternity leave provision.

Ismail had said that employers could be investigated and prosecuted if they dismissed female staff who take 90 days maternity leave.

He had also said that such action was in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Constitution on equal rights.

However, he added: “Although there is no specific clause stating that private sector employers cannot terminate the service of a worker for taking 90 days maternity leave, we have to uphold the principal law which is the Federal Constitution.”

Kasthuri said women workers face the risk of being sacked if they went on 90-day maternity leave as there were no specific laws to execute the new recommendation.

She said it would cause unnecessary hardship to new mothers to lodge a report which was not only time-consuming but would add to the post-delivery stress with no guaranteed resolution.

“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 resources 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,” Kasthuri said.

She also took the Barisan Nasional government to task for failing to table the amendments to the employment laws to protect both employers and workers.

“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,” she said.
Ismail had said the proposed 90-day maternity leave would be in two phases, with the first phase involving consultation with the stakeholders to get their views and feedback.
The second phase would involve amendments to Section 37 of the Employment Act 1995, Section 83 of the Sabah Labour Ordinance Chapter 67 and Section 84 of the Sarawak Labour Ordinance Chapter 76, he had said.

“Be that as it may, what Najib 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.

Kasthuri said while the move to grant a 90-day maternity leave to new mothers was timely and would be immensely beneficial to the family structure and support system, she was concerned that the lack of legislation would see some quietly opt out of it.

According to 2014 data by the World Policy Analysis Center on countries that have or advocate maternity leave, there are nine countries with zero weeks of maternity leave, 83 nations between zero and 14 weeks of 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 Organisation 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. Russia leads the way by providing full pay for women on 140 days of maternity leave.

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 recognised that maternity leave was critical to the success of their economy and that countries could choose to either work with half of their workforce or compete with their full workforce, which require paid maternity leave.

Kasthuri said it was also illogical to say that more privileges for new mothers might 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.

She was responding to a question that a report in Today Online highlighted in response to chief statistician Mohd Uzir Mahidin’s announcement on Oct 31 that the fertility rate in 2016 was the lowest since 1963.
According to the Singapore news portal, experts said while the measure was long overdue, it would still fall short of the intended result.

“The 90-day maternity leave and similar incentives are simply not enough to offset the costs incurred by raising a child as well as the aspiration to live a certain lifestyle,” Universiti Malaysia’s gender studies expert, Lai Suat Yan,was quoted as saying.

During the tabling of Budget 2018 on Oct 27, Najib had announced that the mandatory maternity leave for the private sector had been increased from 60 to 90 days, as in the public sector.

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