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New study finds pregnant migrants’ situations vary

Cambodian domestic workers repatriated from Malaysia speak to NGO officials in Phnom Penh in 2015. A new study has found that pregnant workers are regularly discriminated against in Malaysia.
Cambodian domestic workers repatriated from Malaysia speak to NGO officials in Phnom Penh in 2015. A new study has found that pregnant workers are regularly discriminated against in Malaysia. Vireak Mai

New study finds pregnant migrants’ situations vary

Ouen Srey Sros, a 23-year-old migrant worker in Malaysia, is coming home on Friday. It’s not because she wants to. It’s because she’s pregnant, and her employer – a small restaurant in Penang – fired her after finding out she was nearly five months along.

“It’s very hard for a pregnant woman to get a job,” Srey Sros said. “If the employer knows we’re pregnant, they won’t offer us the job. At any place where we apply, they always make us do a health check-up, blood test and urine test, so if they find out we’re pregnant they won’t let us work.”

Srey Sros is not alone, according to a report from the Fair Labour Association. The study, released on Tuesday, found that pregnant migrant workers in Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan are at risk of “triple discrimination” – being a woman, a migrant worker, and with child.

Among the three countries examined, however, “only the Malaysian government has systematically allowed pregnancy discrimination at all stages of employment”, the study authors conclude.

In Malaysia, workers are required to take a pregnancy test before departing their home country and on a yearly basis, and workers found to be pregnant are deported at their own expense, according to the report.

In contrast, study authors found that pregnant Cambodian workers overall have decent conditions in Thailand, where they are eligible for pre- and post-natal care and their children are allowed to attend local schools.

However, the report also noted that implementation in Thailand can be uneven, citing interviews from one factory on the border with Myanmar where workers said pregnant migrants were regularly fired.

The findings come as the Ministry of Labour plans to ramp up the number of migrant workers it sends abroad and to resume sending domestic workers to Malaysia in June after a six-year ban.

Mom Sokchar, director of Legal Support for Children and Women, said the findings seemed to match his experiences in the field, noting that pregnant migrant workers in Malaysia are regularly deported. Migrant workers in Malaysia are also not allowed to marry, he said.

“This is why it is a kind of discrimination,” Sokchar said. “This is a violation of pregnant workers’ rights and a violation of human rights.”

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