The number of unfair dismissal cases being brought by pregnant women in Singapore has been dropping steadily since 2012 – but discrimination has not been eradicated yet.

The newspaper Lianhe Zaobao recently asked the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) the question ‘Does the law adequately protect the rights of working women?’ This came after a case in which a pregnant employee had lodged a complaint against her employer for firing her and therefore denying her maternity benefits.

The MOM stated that it “takes a serious view of workplace discrimination, especially against pregnant employees,” and said the dispute in question had been resolved. The pregnant woman would receive her “full maternity benefit,” said the department.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) is also looking into the employee’s complaint of discriminatory practices. “If the employer is found to have engaged in discriminatory practices, its work pass privileges will be curtailed,” said the MOM statement.

In 2012, there were 90 unfair dismissal appeals in Singapore but this figure fell to 57 in 2016 and the first quarter of this year only saw 10.

But some legal experts said that while the number of cases being brought is falling, this kind of discrimination shows itself in other ways. Singapore news website Today Online cites the example of one woman who had her probationary period extended when she let her employer know she was pregnant.

A month later, she was given the choice of resigning or being fired. The woman, who chose to remain nameless, is considering making an appeal to MOM.

The problem, however, is not confined to Singapore. Last year, the Women’s Aid Organisation said many Malaysian women were not aware of their rights or how to make a formal complaint. Discrimination during pregnancy was a problem for 44 per cent of the women surveyed.

The MOM firmly reiterated its stance on such discrimination: “Employers found to have unfairly dismissed pregnant employees or attempted to deny pregnant employees of their maternity benefits will be taken to task. All employers are also expected to adopt fair employment practices, in line with the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices.”

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