THE government announced various initiatives to promote women’s participation in the workforce under Budget 2020. They include the Women@Work incentives for women returning to the workforce, RM30mil for child care facilities, and 90 days of maternity leave.
Such initiatives are timely and welcome, as women’s participation in the labour force in Malaysia – currently at 55.8% compared to 80.9% for men – is among the lowest in South-East Asia. Furthermore, women in Malaysia who leave the workforce often do not return later in life, unlike their counterparts in Japan and South Korea.To further promote women’s participation in the workforce, the government must protect job seekers from discrimination and introduce paternity leave in the upcoming amendments to the Employment Act. Protecting jobseekers from discrimination is crucial as women, especially those who are pregnant or are returning to work, often face discrimination during job interviews.
About 40% of women surveyed said that job interviewers had asked them if they were pregnant or had plans to become pregnant, according to a WAO (Women’s Aid Organisation) survey.
In Parliament yesterday, Deputy Human Resources Minister Datuk Mahfuz Omar said the government does not plan to protect job seekers from discrimination in the Employment Act. We urge the government to reconsider this decision, as discrimination often happens during recruitment.
Additionally, paternity leave needs to go hand in hand with maternity leave because parenting is a shared responsibility. Currently, women bear a disproportionate share of parenting and care giving, preventing them from engaging in paid work. According to the Khazanah Research Institute, a whopping 2,563,800 women in Malaysia are not working due to “housework or family responsibilities” compared to just 69,800 men.
Equalising the share of care giving work not only helps women to participate in the workforce but also ensures that those who are employed are not overburdened by domestic chores when they return home from work.
The government has proposed three days of paternity leave for the private sector, but we hope it would be extended to seven days, as is the current paternity leave policy in the public sector.
Overall, we laud the government’s efforts to promote women’s participation in the workforce. In addition to the initiatives announced, we hope the government would also protect job seekers from discrimination and introduce paternity leave. These measures are crucial to promoting women’s participation in the workforce and, in turn, a robust economy.
WOMEN’S AID ORGANISATION
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