At the International Social Security Conference last Friday, Employees Provident Fund (EPF) deputy chief executive officer (Strategy) Tunku Alizakri Alias said that while 10% of the Malaysian labour force was covered under the pension scheme and 46% under the mandatory EPF, another 44% are left out.

According to reports by The Star, this amounts to over six million Malaysians who are self-employed or in the semi-formal sector left out by any retirement scheme due to a lack of a comprehensive social protection system.

Tunku Alizakri said: "We are a bit worried even if they (the 44%) must know what they are doing.

“In terms of financial literacy, they must try and upscale themselves as fast as possible,” he added during the two-day conference themed Active Aging: Live Long and Prosper is jointly organised by the EPF and State Street, with The Star as media partner.

Advising all employees to know what they want for retirement and to be prepared, he gave the options of avenues including Bank Negara or EPF’s retirement advisory services for those in need of help with financial health checks

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During the closing remarks - assuming that those in the semi-formal sector are clueless on how to provide for themselves and for retirement - EPF chief executive officer Datuk Shahril Ridza Ridzuan said that based on local and foreign experience this was a very challenging policy issue.

“It’s essentially how to force people to contribute to their future wellbeing.”

He added that next year’s social security conference would tackle this issue and the trend of young people who are increasingly uninterested in traditional jobs, The Star reported.

“This is a key issue not only for Malaysia but also for other countries that grapple with this challenge,” he said.

9 in ten Malaysians worry over their financial health and retirement

In related news, up to 92% of Malaysians worry over their financial health and needs in their golden years as well as being unprepared for retirement, as revealed by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM).

According to reports from Malay Mail Online, when speaking at a panel session themed "Your Retirement Aspiration: Making It A Reality" at the International Social Security Conference 2016 last week, BNM Assistant Governor Jessica Chew Cheng Lian said 33% are 'very worried' about their financial health when they get old, while the remaining 59% are 'a bit worried'.

"She pointed out that 40% of Malaysians say they are ready for retirement while 80% claim they have the strategies to meet expenses at old age," wrote Malay Mail Online.

Of those who claimed that they have strategies to meet their old age expenses, the most popular strategies included relying on the children or partners, continuing working, and relying on government financial assistance.

READ MORE: 78% of Malaysians have insufficient funds for retirement

Chew noted that most Malaysians adopt a passive strategy for retirement.

As reflected in the composition of household assets, 42% preferred to buy properties, 25% opted to save money in the bank and 18% depended on the Employee Provident Fund (EPF).

"To re-shape the reality among Malaysians, Chew said awareness has been raised through the integration of financial education into formal school curricula for pupils from standard four to six," Malay Mail Online wrote.

"We have also established a financial education network to coordinate and drive financial education initiatives at international level," she said.

Two in five women have experienced job discrimination due to pregnancy

In other news, despite taking the top spot for gender diversity in APAC, more than 40% of women in Malaysia still experience job discrimination due to their pregnancy as revealed in the Workplace Discrimination Survey by Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO).

Polling a total of 222 women from across Malaysia, the online survey revealed the top five ways employers discriminated pregnant women. These include making their positions redundant, denying them promotions, placing them on prolonged probation, demoting them, and terminating their jobs.

The survey also found that one of the ways employers discriminated against pregnant women is in the questions asked during the job application process.

Two in five respondents were asked by interviewers if they were pregnant or had plans to become pregnant in the near future.

"It is discriminatory for a prospective employer to ask questions about a woman’s marital status, pregnancy status or plans, sexual orientation or age, during the job application process," the survey noted.

It also highlighted that about 20% of women had their job applications rejected or job offers revoked after they disclosed their pregnancy. Additionally, 30% of respondents revealed that they will delay their pregnancy plans because they fear losing their job or promotion.

Alarmingly, only about one in eight women who had lost their jobs or promotions due to pregnancy actually lodged formal complaints.

According to Sumitra Visvanathan, executive director of WAO, this is an issue as many women do not know their rights. They may not know the available platforms to seek justice. And even if they do, they may fear backlash and harassment for speaking up.

ALSO READ: Regional data on gender diversity – how Malaysia, Singapore, China fare

“A woman should be free to choose if and when to have children. She should not have to fear losing her job because she has a baby. Malaysian policy makers must ensure that employers are not discriminating pregnant women. Terminating, demoting, or failing to hire or promote a woman because she is pregnant is gender discrimination,” Visvanathan said.

“Our Federal Constitution and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) prohibit gender discrimination. When employers penalise women for having children, employers are violating women’s human rights. Specifically, their right to have a family if they choose, their right to work, and their right to be appropriately appraised and remunerated,” she added.

“Although Malaysia ratified CEDAW in 1995, Malaysia has not adopted many elements of the convention into domestic legislation. So currently there is no means to enforce these provisions in Malaysia. There have been court cases that decided the equality provision in article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution only applies to public sector employees."

"We have yet to see any progress in the private sector. We urgently need a Gender Equality Act that would protect all women employees, including those in the private sector. The Workplace Discrimination Survey is one of the many ways WAO advocates for gender equality, and we will continue our work.” Visvanathan concluded.

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