Call on Abdullah to direct MAS to rectify all gender discrimination clauses in the MAS-MASEU collective agreement

Press Statement
Chong Eng

(Petaling Jaya, Friday): I call on the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi to direct the national airline MAS to abolish all gender discriminatory practices to prove his commitment to end gender bias in Malaysia.

The female cabin crew of MAS has appealed to the government since 2003 to intervene and advise MAS to end gender based discriminatory practices and recognize women workers’ right to equality and justice.

DAP is of the view that as the national carriage, MAS must reflect the wish of the government to end gender bias as stated by Abdullah in the recently concluded NAM Ministerial Meeting on the Advancement of Women.

In addition, Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution had been amended in 2001
to prohibit gender-based discrimination. The Prime Minister therefore has a responsibility to look into the following complaints of the MAS female cabin crew:


Existing Employment Conditions
There exists gender biasness in the retirement age, whereby female cabin crew take early retirement at 40 or 45 for female supervisors, whilst all male cabin crew retire at 55.

Upon early retirement, a female cabin crew receives a "special gratuity at the rate of RM800 per year for every completed year of service with the Company".

Discriminatory Practices
i. The existing employment conditions contravene Article 8[2] of the Federal Constitution, which clearly states that "there shall be no discrimination on the grounds only of religion, race, decent, place of birth or gender". This guarantees the right of women and men to equal pay for equal work or work of equal value.The different ages of retirement for MAS female and male cabin crew violate the Federal Constitution.

ii. The retirement age for female cabin crew from other international airlines puts MAS’ employment policies to shame. Their retirement age are as indicated below:
Air India - 60 years
Thai Airways International - 60 years
Cathay Pacific - 60 years
All Nippon Airways - 65 years
Lufthansa - 60 years
Air Asia - 55 years

iii. It is also known that double standards are practiced by the management of MAS. For example, expatriate female cabin crew, employed by MAS, are allowed to retire at the age of 60 or 65, in full compliance with their country's employment law. Yet, when it comes to its own Malaysian staff,
female cabin crew are forced to retire early.

iv. Malaysia is also committed to uphold respect and equality for women being a signatory to the UN Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Article 11 states that:
1. State Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular:
a) The right to work as an inalienable right of all human beings:
e) The right to social security, particularly in cases of retirement, unemployment, sickness, invalidity and old age and other incapacity to work, as well as the right to paid leave.

This clearly upholds women's right to the same employment opportunities.The gratuity offered to female cabin crew upon their early retirement is meagre and shows total disrespect towards the years of contribution that they have made towards building the good image of MAS. Therefore, this gratuity policy becomes irrelevant if MAS increases the retirement age of female cabin crew to 55 years of age.

For example, upon early retirement, a female cabin crew will only receive RM16,000 (which is calculated by the following formula: RM800 x 20 years of service) as a token of appreciation for her 20 years of dedication to MAS.

This is in contrast with RM414,000 which she will lose due to her early retirement for 15 extra years of service (calculated by the following formula: RM2,300 salary per month x 12 months x extra 15 years of service).

It must be noted that this special gratuity is also subjected to taxation. On the other hand, all male cabin crew are allowed to continue to working until they reach 55, with full pay and benefits.
It also makes more economic sense to maintain experienced and well-trained female cabin crew than to spend millions of ringgit on advertisement, recruitment and training for newer and less experienced workers.


Existing Employment Conditions
The Collective Agreement between the management of MAS and MASEU states that "a married female cabin crew with five or more years of service … shall be
granted leave without pay from the date she is declared medically unfit to fly by a medical practitioner. The leave without pay shall commence not later than the end of her second month of pregnancy. She shall not be entitled to medical leave and compassionate leave during the period she is granted leave without pay."

Discriminatory Practices
i. It must be stressed that income generated by women is vital for the survival of the family. The denial of seven months' pay in the course of a woman's pregnancy is a violation of worker's right and it does not accord respect and recognition to women's contribution towards the growth and well-being of the company.

This further perpetuates the stereotype roles that women's contribution is considered secondary to the workforce of MAS.

ii. Female cabin crew should not be penalised based on their reproductive function, i.e. to be pregnant and to have children. Such a maternity policy falls short of ensuring an equitable coverage for women and infringes on their effective right to work.

Article 11 of CEDAW guarantees that equitable maternity benefit as an inalienable right to all human beings. It states the following:

1(f). the right to protection of health and to safety in working conditions,
including the safeguarding of the function of reproduction;

2. In order to prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of marriage or maternity and to ensure their effective right to work, State Parties shall take appropriate measures:
(a.) To prohibit, subject to the imposition of sanctions, dismissed on the grounds of pregnancy or of maternity leave and discrimination in dismissals on the basis of marital status;
(b.) To introduce maternity leave with pay or with comparable social benefits without loss of former employment, seniority or social allowance.

In any Collective Agreement, the terms and conditions should leave workers in a better condition as compared with the Employment Act, 1955. This means that a worker is guaranteed of all benefits attached to maternity, including her entitlement to full pay during pregnancy.Unfortunately the Collective Agreement between MAS and MASEU provides for employment conditions that are below the acceptable standards as set by the Employment Act, 1955.


    Existing Employment Conditions
    A female cabin crew is only entitled to maternity leave benefits "for not more than two surviving children. In the event that she becomes pregnant after having two surviving children, she shall resign from the Company, failing which the Company reserves the right to terminate her services."

    Discriminatory Practices
    i. Limiting female cabin crew to two surviving children indicates a non-compliance to Section 37 (c) of the Employment Act of 1955 (Act 265), which states that it is only when a woman has five or more surviving children that she will not be entitled to any maternity allowance.

    ii. The female cabin crew should not be terminated on the basis of having a third child. This policy coerces women to fit into a particular pattern of reproduction. This infringes on women's right to choose and to make their own decision freely and responsibly in terms of the number, spacing and timing of their children.

The Abdullah Badawi-led government must advise MAS to do the following to show that Barisan National is serious in complying with the Federal Constitution and CEDEW in promoting gender equality:

Increase the retirement age of female staff from 40 years at present to 55 years as currently practiced in the case of male staff in similar job position.

Female staff should be entitled to full maternity benefits and this should include full pay, medical leave and compassionate leave during the pregnancy period until confinement.

To comply with Section 37 (c) of the Employment Act of 1955 (Act 265) which
guarantees a woman the right to full pay and benefits for up to five surviving children.

MAS should focus on the professionalism of female cabin crew rather than their external appearances, such as weight or looks. There should be no discrimination, particularly in the case of female crew who have given birth as the government had many times said that the contribution of mothers should be recognised.

I also call on the public to show their support for the group of female MAS stewardesses by contributing to the Special Beatrice fund for legal action.


* Chong Eng, MP for Bukit Mertajam and DAP Wanita Chairperson