September 17th, 2010

AWARE questions SIA practice

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AWARE refers to the report on “Singapore Girls may finally get maternity benefit” (ST, Sept 10) and are glad that some steps are being taken in the right direction. Nonetheless, the report begs the question about the validity of contractual clauses which require pregnant women to resign.

The report stated that Singapore Airlines (“SIA”) requires its female flight attendants to quit flying after the first trimester of pregnancy (“Quit Flying Requirement”). The reported effect is to deprive female attendants of all maternity benefits unless they can secure ground jobs, which are not easy to get. It appears that pregnant female attendants also lose their jobs. We understand that other airline companies may have similar contractual provisions. At first sight, these provisions are discriminatory and unfair.

The report raises some questions:

What is SIA’s basis for imposing the Quit Flying Requirement?
b) If the basis is solely to protect female attendants or foetuses, can this not be achieved in a fairer way by providing alternative employment for female attendants during pregnancy and allowing them to fly again after their pregnancy?
We hope SIA will respond to these questions.

The report raises some legal issues as well.

AWARE has not had sight of the terms of SIA’s employment contract with its female flight attendants. But we question if such practices should be allowed under our employment statutes which provide for maternity benefits to be paid to employees whose contracts are terminated within 6 months of their confinement.
We note that the Employment Act also prohibits employers from contracting out of their statutory obligations.

If the Quit Flying Clause and similar requirements imposed by other companies are valid, then is there a serious loophole in the law which should be rectified to ensure compliance with the national policy of encouraging childbirth and eliminating gender discrimination?

Further, these requirements are contrary to the principles of the Fair Employment Practices Guidelines that companies should “treat employees fairly and with respect and implement progressive human resource management systems’ and ” provide employees with equal opportunity to help them achieve their full potential”.

We hope that MOM will provide guidelines on these points, and take the necessary action to ensure that pregnant women are not discriminated against by employers through the clever use of contractual clauses which effectively result in the denial of maternity benefits.

Corinna Lim

Executive Director, AWARE

This letter was also published in the Straits Times

AWARE is interested to find out more about the clauses relating to pregnancy in the contracts between flight attendants and the respective airlines. If you have information on this, please send this to intern@aware.org.sg. You may send to us anonymously if you wish. In any event, we will not disclose the source of our information without seeking prior written permission from you.
Update: SIA’s Reply

Headline: SIA has Returning Mothers Scheme and more being done
Date: Monday, 20 September 2010
Straits Times Page: A19
(C) Singapore Press Holdings Limited

I REFER to last Friday’s letter by Ms Corinna Lim (“Pregnancy and flying: Question of fairness in contractual clauses”).

The nature of a flight attendant’s job is multi-faceted, involving not only the provision of service to customers, but also ensuring the safety of our passengers in an unforeseen event. The physical demands of the job mean that all our cabin crew must be fit to perform their duties, and as a responsible employer, we would not think of compromising the physical well-being of pregnant crew and their unborn children.

Our cabin crew are on five-year contracts, rather than on permanent terms, and it is for the reasons stated above that the employment of female crew ceases after the first trimester of a pregnancy. Pregnant crew may then apply for a ground posting. While every effort is taken to produce a match, the reality is that vacancies on the ground are limited and applicants do need to possess relevant skills for a particular job.

We invest heavily in our cabin crew and deeply appreciate their contributions to the company. This is why we have had in place for some years a Returning Mothers Scheme, which allows female crew to rejoin Singapore Airlines in their former capacity, provided they meet the criteria for them to carry out their duties. The scheme has been a success and was formulated in consultation with our staff and unions.

We also recognise that more can be done in the best interests of our female cabin crew population. For some time now we have been in discussion with our unions on a scheme which will provide an ex gratia payment to pregnant crew whose employment ceases. We are in the advanced stages in this process and any new initiative will be communicated to our crew at the appropriate time.

Tan Pee Teck
Senior Vice-President, Cabin Crew
Singapore Airlines

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