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Govt urged to help as bosses brace for longer maternity leave

Otherwise, there are concerns of discrimination against women workers as the amendments to the Employment Act come into effect.

Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
3 minute read
Experts warn of possible discrimination against female employees if the amendments to the Employment Act allowing longer maternity leave are not properly implemented.
Experts warn of possible discrimination against female employees if the amendments to the Employment Act allowing longer maternity leave are not properly implemented.

When Mohd Azfar Zahari had his first child four years ago, he took no leave at all but continued working as usual at a pharmacy in the capital city. 

This year, he and his wife are expecting their second child and he is torn over whether to take paternity leave this time around. 

He is worried about how his wife will handle things without his help but does not know if an application for paternity leave will be approved. 

"It will depend on my boss," he said. "If I really want time off for the baby, I might have to take unpaid leave."

But going five days to a week without salary will take a heavy toll on his monthly income. 

In June, the human resources ministry said the Employment (Amendment) Act 2022 would take effect from September onwards. 

Changes include an extension of maternity leave from 60 to 90 days, restrictions on the retrenchment of pregnant workers, and the introduction of paternity leave for male employees. 

These amendments had been eagerly awaited, especially by couples and working parents.

And with the maximum number of weekly working hours expected to drop from 48 to 45, Malaysia could also see itself removed, at least to some extent, from its position as one of the countries with the most weekly working hours in the world. 

'No choice'

The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) said employers would have no choice but to implement the changes laid out in the provisions of the act. 

MEF president Syed Hussain Syed Husman said this would involve higher costs due to the increase granted for sick leave, maternity leave and paternity leave, and the reduction of working hours. 

"Employers will also have to bear the costs of workers taking emergency leave, unpaid leave or skipping work without reasonable cause, which will result in a drop in productivity and financial losses," he told MalaysiaNow. 

The cost of the 90-day maternity leave, for example, would be fully borne by employers, he said. 

In other Asean countries, he said, the cost was shared with social security organisations. 

In Thailand, for instance, for maternity leave exceeding 45 days, up to 50% of the cost is borne by the social security organisation for a maximum of two births. 

"The same goes in Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia where social security groups take on part of the cost of maternity leave," Syed Hussain said. 

In Singapore, meanwhile, for the first two births, the cost of maternity leave for 60 days is borne by the employer and the remaining 28 days by the government. 

For subsequent births, all 12 weeks of maternity leave are borne by the government. 
In the Malaysian contest, Syed Hussain said, it would help if the government considered funding part of the cost for maternity and paternity leave through the social security system or the Employment Insurance System.

Ready for amendments?

Analyst Lee Min Hui of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies said the amendments to the Employment Act were an important step towards ensuring a "family-friendly" work environment. 

However, she acknowledged concerns that the act, if not correctly implemented, would hamper the intended progress. 

When employers bear the full cost of maternity leave, Lee said, they might decide against hiring or promoting female workers due to their perceived burden of obligations. 

A lack of workplace or organisational support could also hinder fathers from taking paternity leave due to the fear of hurting their careers, she said. 

She said both forms of discrimination were the norm in many countries, even those seen as more progressive. 

"If Malaysia wants to see real progress on this front, it should establish laws to prevent discrimination in recruitment, to keep women from being discriminated against prior to employment," she said. 

"The government should also ensure the proper enforcement of the Employment Act. Explore new ways of financing parental leave to ensure sustainability, especially for smaller companies.

"The new laws may be progressive, but poor implementation on the ground could hurt employees, both women and men."