In 2012, Faith Community Baptist Church sacked an administrative worker for being pregnant. Terminating staff for being pregnant is clearly against statutory provisions in the Employment Act.
The plot twist to this, is that she was sacked when the church found out she was pregnant with the child of another church employee. The Ministry of Manpower then took action against FCBC for “dismissing without sufficient cause within six months of her delivery date”. FCBC was then ordered to compensate the woman’s salary and maternity benefits of $7,000.
Unhappy with the decision, FCBC then ordered a Judicial Review against the Ministry.
A judicial review is legal action where citizens take a public authority (including the government) to court to seek judicial redress over a decision he/she felt was made unreasonably, irrationally or out of proportion. It is a claim to say that the authority was acting out of its powers.
This case represented a clash between the State and the Church. FCBC claimed that MOM acted unconstitutionally in interfering with how the Church manages its own affairs.
Personally, I beg to differ. Although the Church has its own set of constitutions and regulations, they are still subordinate to the laws of the country. Granted, a religious organisation is unlike other organisations, but this being a secular society that tries to integrate several religions into one country… there has to be a limit.
And the Minister does have the power to order FCBC to compensate the staff:
Section 84 of the Employment Act provides that:
(3) Where the Minister is satisfied that the employee has been dismissed without sufficient cause, he may, notwithstanding any rule of law or agreement to the contrary — (a) direct the employer to reinstate the employee in her former employment and pay the employee an amount equal to the wages that the employee would have earned had she not been dismissed by the employer; or
(b) direct the employer to pay such amount of wages as compensation as the Minister may consider just and equitable having regard to all the circumstances of the case.
The Church may argue that it is a disciplinary action to have flouted Church regulations (and indeed they have). If she was stealing, acting insubordinately or had poor work attitudes – then yes, she the grounds for her termination would be of that.
However, her “crime” was to be become pregnant with someone she shouldn’t have and at least where the Employment Act is concerned, it is not the business of the Act with whom she conceived her baby with.
Imagine: if the Church had won this case, it would open the doors for other employers to do the same. Termination of pregnant staff would then have to consider how a woman got pregnant. You might argue that this is a Church, different story…but there is nothing to stop another very pious employer from incorporating similar terms in their employment contract.
Faith Community Baptist Church had since backed down from the judicial review. Today they have published on both the Straits Times and their Facebook page that they “have come to understand and recognise the rationale/basis for the Minister’s decision based on the specific facts of the case.”
The withdrawal of the judicial review will not affect the compensation order, and this has already been paid to the woman.
(…and yes, even in such a statement… there has to be the obligatory SG50 note…)