Having kids can cost some mothers their jobs

Posted by Jasmine Yin under Labour Watch on 19 April 2005

One woman returned to work after maternity leave to find she no longer had a job, while another was sacked two weeks after she told her employer she was pregnant.

SINGAPORE'S policy makers may have come up with a host of measures to boost the nation's flagging fertility rate, but the stance of some employers towards pregnant employees may well be undermining the national effort.

In recent weeks, several readers complained to Today about the blatant discrimination they or their friends had faced because they had given birth. Similar complaints have been received by Aware, the women's rights group.

One woman returned to work after maternity leave to find she no longer had a job, while another was sacked two weeks after she told her employer she was pregnant.

Mdm Corrinn Swee, 34, and Mdm Lois Teoh Bee Ean, 31, believe they were terminated unfairly from their jobs this year because of their pregnancies.

On February 28, after eight weeks of maternity leave, Mdm Swee returned to work at a foreign re-insurance company, her workplace of three years. But her boss told her to leave the company.

When she protested that the termination was "very unfair" and undermined the Government's pro-baby policy, her boss replied: "This is your Singapore Government. I am French."

He attributed his decision to her frequent mistakes. But she suspected otherwise when he refused to let her see and rectify the alleged mistakes. She also recalled an incident, prior to her pregnancy, when he remarked that he would terminate the next pregnant employee in the department. This was after two of her colleagues had gone on maternity leave.

Mdm Swee asked: "Who would dare to have children if they are working for such a foreign company?"

Local employers are just as capable of such discriminatory practices.

On January 3, Mdm Teoh was promoted to international operations manager at a local electronic components trading company and given a 5 per cent dividend-sharing offer, based on the company's performance.

On March 9, two weeks after she told the management of her pregnancy, her boss emailed her to "to resign and leave the company immediately", she told Today.

Mdm Teoh's employer, a Singaporean, said she had been "making a lot of typos, and (her) job performance has not been up to par".

But she disputes this, saying: "He just gave me a promotion and a profit-sharing letter. How can things change so fast?"

She said she could not believe that the man, a father of four, would do such a thing to her.

"The government is encouraging (women) to give birth, and yet, you have to suffer this kind of discrimination and injustice. The government needs to act to warn employers that it will not condone such socially irresponsible behaviour."

Another TODAY reader, Ms Linda Lo, wrote about how her friend had to leave her recruitment specialist job at a multi-national computer company said after the manager said the company did not employ pregnant women because they would "interfere with work flow".

The manager's parting words to her friend were: "After you leave, don't expect to find another job until you have given birth. No one will employ a pregnant woman."

These incidents, said Aware president Braema Mathi, showed how the state's pro-child policy and the implementation of this at the workplace are "out of sync".

"When an employer gives a woman a hard time because she is pregnant, (the employer) is also affecting the family unit," she said. "It is going to be very hard to persuade couples to think of having children."

A strong signal needed to be sent to society that the behaviour of recalcitrant employers is totally unacceptable, she said. "Pregnant women should not be penalised in such a manner."

Over the last month, Aware received four complaints about pregnancy-related job discrimination. It is planning a six-month-long study on the attitudes at the workplace towards pregnant women. Anyone who wants to take part in this study can contact AWARE at 1800-774 5935.

Mr David Ang, Singapore Human Resources Institute's executive director, said good employer-employee relations help so that "perceived liabilities (of pregnancy) may not come up at all".

Understanding employers will help pregnant employees re-arrange their work commitments so they can go for medical check-ups.

He said employers should take a longer-term perspective and help employees balance their work life and their families. This way, companies can retain skills and knowledge, and earn the loyalty of their employees, he said.

Mdm Ho Geok Choo, SIA Engineering's human resources vice-president and MP for West Coast GRC, said less established companies and those that are overly focused on "saving costs for the sake of saving" are less likely to have policies supportive of pregnant staff.

When asked if legislation could help counter pregnancy-related discrimination, she said the Employment Act provided sufficient protection for those covered by it.

The Act does not cover those in managerial and executive positions, like Mdm Teoh. They are bound by the terms and conditions of the contract that they have with their respective employers, said Mdm Ho, who added that by and large, Singapore has good human resource practices in place.

The Ministry of Manpower said anyone who thinks he or she has been terminated unfairly can appeal directly or through the union (if they are union members) to the Minister for Manpower for reinstatement within two months from the date of dismissal.

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Today Having kids can cost some mothers their jobs 5 April 2005

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