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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Customary-marriage widows entitled to Socso pension, says court in landmark ruling

 

The Court of Appeal today ruled that widows, whose marriage was not registered, can claim for benefits under the Socso Act.

PUTRAJAYA: The Court of Appeal has ruled that widows, whose marriage are not registered, are entitled to claim for surviving spouse benefit under the Employees’ Social Security (Socso) Act 1969.

A three-member bench chaired by Lau Bee Lan said it agreed and upheld the interpretation of the law by two High Court judges, made separately on the matter.

Judges Su Geok Yiam and Wong Kian Kheong had allowed widows Lam Kun Tai and Wong Ton Feng, respectively, to claim the benefit.

The director-general of Socso appealed against both decisions, while he was a respondent in an appeal brought by another widow, T Sarsvathy.

All three cases were heard together as the contentious issue was similar.

“The appeal by Socso has no merit and the decisions of the High Court are affirmed,” said Lau, who sat with Abu Bakar Jais and M Gunalan.

The bench also set aside a separate High Court decision and allowed Sarsvathy’s appeal.

In Sarsvathy’s case, she entered into an Indian customary marriage in 1990 with G Devakumar, with whom she had three children.

The couple also did not register their union under the Law Reform Act (Marriage and Divorce) 1976 (LRA).

Three years ago, Devakumar died due to “traumatic brain injury” and Sarsvathy’s claim for pension was denied by the Employees’ Social Security Appellate Board.

She filed an appeal to the High Court by posing a legal question as to whether a customarily married wife was entitled to Socso benefits when such marriage was not registered under the LRA.

Lawyer M Athimulan, who appeared for Sarsvathy, submitted that there was no definition of widow in the Sosco legislation but dependents, who included a widow, were entitled to the pension.

“She was a wife and married woman under the Married Women Act (MMA) 1957, which is still a valid law,” he said.

Section 2 of the MMA defines a married woman as any woman married in accordance with the rites and ceremonies required by her religion, manner and customs.

“So, the definition of widow must also be applicable to women who were customarily married and those who registered under the LRA,” said Athimulan, who was assisted by Kamini Muniandy.

The lawyer said there should be no discrimination to get the pension because the Sosco Act was a social legislation.

Athimulan said Socso would now have to calculate the amount that Sarsvathy was entitled to. - FMT

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