Existing Maternity Leave Policy in Singapore
As long as the pregnant employee is covered under the Employment Act, she will be entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave immediately after delivery. This will allow her to recover from the physical trauma of delivery to her body, and also to care for her newborn child. This duration is the same regardless of whether the working mother is unmarried, non-Singaporean (whether foreigner or permanent resident) or if the child is not a Singapore citizen.
However, her employer will only be bound to pay her for up to the first eight weeks of maternity leave (and subsequently claim reimbursement from the government) and is not required by law to pay for the remaining four weeks. Also, employees will only be paid for the first eight weeks of maternity leave if they currently have two or less children (excluding the newborn) and have worked for the employer for at least three months prior to delivery.
Read also: Paternity Leave in Singapore
If the employee is also covered under the Child Development Co-Savings Act (i.e. she is married and her child is a Singapore citizen, among other things), she will be entitled to not just 12 but an additional four weeks of maternity leave. These four weeks can be taken immediately before the delivery of the child, giving the employee time to rest and prepare for the delivery. In addition, the employer can also claim reimbursement from the government for the last eight weeks of leave for the employee’s first and second children, and the entire 16 weeks for her subsequent children.
Such government legislation has made it compulsory for employees to be allowed to take at least two months off work after giving birth to recover from the delivery and also to take care of the newborn child’s needs. However, this has led to some employees being dismissed after giving their employers notice of their pregnancy as they are perceived to be “deadweights” – being unable to contribute to the productivity of the company while on maternity leave, yet still drawing a salary during this period of time.
Discrimination Against Pregnant Employees
While pregnancy discrimination, like any other form of discrimination, is heavily frowned upon, it is seen to still happen occasionally (although this may sometimes be difficult to prove, as the employer cites reasons such as poor job performance as the cause for dismissal). As such, the government has made changes to the maternity leave scheme in order to reduce the occurrences of pregnant employees being discriminated against. From 1 May 2013 onwards, employers will have to pay their pregnant employees maternity benefits if it is found that they have been dismissed from work without sufficient cause during any point of their pregnancy. The employee must have worked for the employer for at least three calendar months before she may qualify for such enhanced maternity protection.
Enhanced Maternity Protection
Enhanced maternity protection is seen to mostly benefit employees who are already in the workforce and subsequently become pregnant in the course of their employment. Employers will be deterred from firing them because if they are found to done so without “sufficient cause”, they will be liable to pay maternity benefits to the employee anyway. Pregnant job-seekers do not enjoy such protection, however, and may still find difficulty in securing a job. This is because employers have little incentive to hire them when they could hire others who would not have to take a long leave of absence shortly after starting work.
A Tough Pill For Some Employers
While beneficial for employees, enhanced maternity protection may be too difficult for some employers to swallow as they face increases in operating costs and decreases in productivity. This is because they still have to pay their pregnant employees when they go on maternity leave and are thus unable to reduce costs by replacing such employees with others better able to complete tasks. Employers will have to find ways of maintaining the sustainability of their operations in light of the enhancements to maternity protection.
In the meantime, working mothers appear supportive of the changes to maternity leave. “Employers should provide support for their female employees,” says Nurul, 29, who has just welcomed a new child to her family. “The government is doing all it can to encourage couples to have more babies and employers should mirror government policies on this issue. This is especially so in a meritocratic society like Singapore’s, where one’s career progression should be based solely on merit, and not on whether she is pregnant.”
For more information on maternity leave, click here.