The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) recently proposed that all employees be provided 1 month’s paid paternity leave. The MTUC’s secretary general was quoted as saying that it is time for a review of paternity leave provisions, since most private companies in Malaysia do not provide such benefits. It was also mentioned that the implementation of paternity leave could also reduce the instances of postpartum depression, since husbands and fathers would be able to take paid leave and take care of their wife and newborn during the confinement period.
MTUC’s proposal was met with objections from the Malaysian Federation of Employers (MEF). MEF’s executive director, Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan, stated that mandatory paid paternity leave would affect operational costs and company productivity, stating that taking into consideration an average salary of RM2,800 a month, 1 month’s paid paternity leave would cost approximately RM1.4 billion. He further added that such policies should not be introduced at an economically unstable time like this. The MEF further stated that if implemented, Malaysia would not be a lucrative choice for investors, and it would burden employers. The MEF’s comments are not far off from that of President Trump, who was quoted as saying that pregnancy is “an inconvenience for a person that is running a business“.
Currently, the Malaysian Employment Act 1955 does not provide for mandatory paid paternity leave, although mothers are entitled by law to a minimum of 60 consecutive days of paid maternity leave. In Malaysia, some employees in the public sector are given paid paternity leave ranging anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks. Employees in the private sector are not so fortunate, since their rights to paternity leave are at the sole discretion of the employer.
That being said, some companies are starting to recognise the benefits of offering paid paternity leave as a benefit – for example, AXA Malaysia recently announced that employees will be entitled to 4 weeks of paid paternity leave.
We previously wrote about the positive impact of paternity leave (eg: it will facilitate the return of mothers to the workplace and possibly help narrow the gender pay gap). However, studies have also shown that the availability of paternity leave does not mean that it will actually be utilised, since men continue to be judged negatively for using such leave. This is possibly due to paternity leave’s association with a “caregiver role”, which is in conflict with existing stereotypes of men as breadwinners and not caregivers. For example, a survey by the Boston College Center for Work and Family found that 76% of fathers are back at work within a week from the birth of their child, and 96% of fathers are back at work after 2 weeks. Other studies support a finding that men who take paternity leave were less likely to be recommended for rewards, may get passed over for promotion, or are otherwise seen as less competent at their jobs.
As it stands, paternity leave is not required by law in Malaysia. Without the force of legislation, there is little commercial incentive for an employer to voluntarily offer paid paternity leave, especially employers with a small work force who may not be able to afford the business interruption, and who may not have enough employees to cover the long absence of an employee on paternity leave. On the flip side, more progressive employers may look beyond the short term commercial costs and instead focus on the long term benefits of providing sufficient parental leave to employees. Whatever it is, mandatory paid paternity leave has to come through legislation, and there does not appear to be any urgent plans to amend our existing legislation to address this issue.