Women's group unhappy with Employment Act revisions

MALAYSIA: The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) is not pleased with the amendments to the Employment Act 1955, deeming that they fall short in many areas even if some positive reforms are incorporated.

WAO first cited that the provision on maternity leave does not meet the International Labour Organisation standard of 98 days. The amendments extended it from 60 to 90 days.

Moreover, WAO thinks that the three-day paternity leave is not enough.

"We urge the government to introduce at least seven days of paid paternity leave – the same as what public sector workers currently enjoy."

Commenting on the revision of Section 37aa, which originally states that women who are not entitled to maternity leave pay may return to work during their maternity period if declared fit to work, WAO said: "On paper, this gives women a choice, but there may be room for abuse – if employers coerce women to return to work early."

On the removal of Section 44A, which provides maternity benefits to all women workers belonging to all income brackets, the Bill’s explanatory statement notes the blanket wage cap is still being revised or lifted.

But WAO thinks that this must be further explained: "However, the First Schedule – where the wage cap is – is not being amended by the Bill. This must be clarified, or it could mean that maternity benefits would only apply to women workers earning RM2,000 or less."

WAO is also looking for improvements to include protection against discrimination for job-seekers, such as pregnant women.

"This means employers can continue to discriminate against pregnant (and potentially pregnant) women looking for jobs."

WAO presses that discrimination must be defined in an employer-employee dispute.

"Discrimination must be defined to include direct and indirect discrimination, and grounds for discrimination (including gender, religion, race, or disabilities) should be spelt out."

"Concerningly, the Bill does not prohibit discrimination. Employers can be penalised for failing to comply with the Director General's order, following an investigation. But the employer will not be penalised for the discrimination itself."

WAO believes that employers can discriminate during recruitment, whether it is racial, religion, gender, disability, or other forms.

WAO cited the replacement of the term "domestic employee" instead of "domestic servant" would not guarantee the fulfilment of many employee rights for domestic workers.

"The Bill must amend the First Schedule to extend these rights to domestic workers," the non-government organization stressed.

Lastly, WAO welcomed the deletion of provisions that disallow women to work at night or perform underground work. But it said the Bill must have measures to ensure the safety of women workers.

WAO urged the Parliament to consider their concerns before passing the Bill into law.

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