The number of employer requests to fire pregnant workers increased by nearly 90 percent in the first month of this year, according to a report released Tuesday. The announcement by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry's Administration of Labor Law Enforcement was part of an effort to raise awareness of the soaring figures. According to the administration, which is required by law to investigate any request to fire a pregnant woman or a woman undergoing fertility treatment, 252 requests were received in January alone - a rise of 88% compared to the same month in 2008. Over the past year, the administration said it had investigated 1,609 requests to fire pregnant women or women receiving fertility treatment, compared to 1,277 in 2007, an increase of 26%. Of the requests received, the ministry granted 660 workplaces permission to fire their pregnant employees. "There is no doubt that the economic crisis has caused this sharp increase," said the administration's director, Yaffa Sulimani, adding that in the past five months, since the recession started gaining momentum, there had been an increase of 80% in similar requests. "In light of the rise in requests, the administration has decided to increase the number of its investigators," continued Sulimani. "We want to streamline this process, which involves a close inspection of the employer's request and testimonies from both the employer and employee." The Women's Labor Law from 1954 states that any employer wanting to dismiss a pregnant woman must seek permission from the Administration of Labor Law Enforcement. Additionally, the desire to fire a woman who is pregnant or undergoing fertility treatment must be on the basis of her performance or the company's situation, and not directly connected to her condition. In a study published last week by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, researcher Nirit Toshav-Eichner noted that more than 50% of employers who fired their pregnant staff over the past few months did not, in fact, follow the legal procedures required. An expert on the implementation of the Women's Labor Law, Toshav-Eichner said that whenever there was an economic slowdown, pregnant women were always the first to be let go. "They are the weakest link," she told The Jerusalem Post in a previous interview, and urged all women to make sure they were aware of their rights. Rivka Makover, director of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry's planning department, said that publishing these statistics was an attempt to raise awareness of the reality that despite the clearness of the law, pregnant women were becoming the first victims of the recession.