Li Lian, MP, wife – and mum-to-be

Move over, Sim Ann. Welcome, Lee Li Lian.

In a country where there is a shortage of babies, news of a a female parliamentarian’s pregnancy is very welcomed.

Congratulations, Lee Li Lian. You are more than capable of carrying out your duties as a wife, mother and Member of Parliament. Indeed. And your Workers’ Party secretary-general Low Thia Kiang agrees: “She’s hardworking, will be able to manage her responsibilities.”

These days, it is rare for an employer to compliment a pregnant employee. Generally, employers assume that pregnant women are unable to do a good job or that childbearing workers are less committed to their jobs.

Lee will become the second Member of Parliament to give birth while in office. In 2012, Minister of State for Education and Communications and Information Sim Ann gave birth to her third child.

The Punggol East MP hopes that her pregnancy will change people’s perception that women cannot have families as well as careers. That, to her, is the number one bugbear that Singaporean society should get rid of.

In 2011, the Ministry of Manpower received 112 pregnancy and maternity-related complaints compared to 84 in 2010. On average, there have been 97 complaints each year between 2006 and 2010, with the highest number – 147 – recorded in 2009.

The Employment Act should also be amended to protect pregnant employees from workplace discrimination. According to AWARE’s Executive Director Corrina Lim, the Employment Act and pregnancy protection rule is only applicable after the end of the first trimester, and employers can take advantage of this.

“If an employee gets fired before the end of the first trimester, she may have no recourse against the employer and she will effectively be out of a job for at least 12 months.” Lim adds that Singapore needs an anti-discrimination law but in its absence, employees who have been discriminated against can approach the Ministry of Manpower or Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices.

All this is for Lee Li Lian to pursue, on behalf of those who are not so fortunate to have enlightened employers like her.

She should get some support from Tin Pei Ling and Sylvia Lim, among others.