Letting foreign workers get pregnant: Bosses say no, union says yes

Global study says many foreign women workers in Malaysia enter the informal workforce to avoid deportation under the country’s labour laws.

PETALING JAYA: The country’s largest employers group supports the government’s policy of barring female foreign workers from becoming pregnant, saying it is to prevent undesirable social issues from occurring.

However, the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) and Women’s Aid Organisation say this violates the rights of the workers.

This followed a global study highlighting Malaysia’s restrictive laws on women foreign workers, under which those found to be pregnant are subject to immediate deportation at their own expense.

To avoid deportation, the study said, many entered the informal workforce where labour laws are often ignored and abuse is common.

Speaking to FMT, the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF), which represents more than 5,000 corporate members and 22 association members, said avoiding pregnancy was one of the pre-conditions for a working permit in the country, along with being prohibited from marrying locals. The latter condition also applies to male migrant workers.

MEF executive director Shamsuddin Bardan said the rationale for both pre-conditions was to avoid complications and abuse pertaining to the status of a foreign worker or their child.

“Our foreign worker situation is different from that in other countries as employers don’t bring in foreign workers with the intention to hire them for a long period, because we are trying to reduce our reliance on them.

“So our foreign worker arrangement leans more towards fixed-term contract employment, where we hire a foreign worker for two years, with the option for an additional year.”

Shamsuddin said because of this, foreign workers having children, with the possibility of their contract not being renewed in a year or two, could pose a problem.

He said although liberalising rules on marrying locals and having children would mean employers would not suffer losses such as recruitment costs and the non-refundable levy for a deported foreign worker, doing so could lead to social problems.

“Even with the existing strict pre-conditions, we hear complaints from housewives that their husbands are mingling with female foreign workers.”

Shamsuddin said hiring foreigners was not ideal for employers, but they had little choice as locals did not want such jobs.

He added that apart from social issues and legal complications, allowing foreign workers to have children could affect efficiency and productivity, and so defeat the purpose of bringing in foreign workers in the first place.

However, the Women’s Aid Organisation called on employers to respect the reproductive rights of migrant workers.

“It’s not okay to force women migrant workers to take pregnancy tests and to deport them for being pregnant.

“This is blatant pregnancy discrimination and must stop. It violates women’s rights under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which Malaysia ratified in 1995.”

MTUC secretary-general J Solomon meanwhile called on the government to abolish the pre-conditions which bar female foreign workers from getting pregnant.

“It’s inhumane and cruel. We are humans, sometimes we fall sick or are injured, and we have biological needs.

“Are you telling me that if a local worker falls sick or gets pregnant, we terminate their employment? We shouldn’t discriminate against foreign workers.”

Solomon added that if employers didn’t want their female foreign workers to get pregnant, they should pay local female workers more so that they didn’t have to rely on foreigners.