SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at his National Day Rally on Sunday that paternity leave could be enhanced, something that interest groups have been lobbying for and employers have been resisting.
On Monday, the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) raised concerns over new legislation that may be passed on paternity leave, even as employees call for better work—life balance.
Observers said the government’s move to finally act on paternity leave signals how serious it is in solving the problem of Singapore’s low fertility rate. It is also a recognition of the dual responsibility of men and women in raising children, with more women in the workforce.
It is not clear yet what form the paternity leave will take. Currently, fathers have two days of paternity leave that can be taken when his child is born. Father also get six days childcare leave for children aged seven and below.
Various groups have suggested that the number of days for this could be raised, or even allow the last one or two months of the four—month maternity leave to be gender neutral, meaning that fathers too are eligible for the leave.
The SNEF said this may require new legislation. However, it added that legislation brings about a certain amount of rigidity, especially for companies which are already generous in their family care leave.
Stephen Lee, president of the SNEF, said: "Businesses understand the whole fertility issue, that we’re not replacing ourselves. But when it comes to legislation, we are cautious. There are already some companies that tell us they give very generous annual leave, upwards of thirty—plus days, and these companies have concerns that if you legislate something over and on top (of what is already there), that means additional time would have to be given off."
Even allowing fathers to share part of the maternity leave may bring problems.
Stephen Lee added: "I don’t want to jump the gun but if you talk about 16 weeks of maternity leave and part of it may be taken by the father — if you take half, that’s quite disruptive. Right now, many companies are facing a labour shortage. The mother and the father don’t work in the same company, then there has to be some sort of checking mechanism, so it’s not double—counted.
"And when you are under a shortage of labour, especially when they possess a certain type of skill which is difficult to train, then suddenly you say ’Okay, the guy is going to be away for a month or two, so it’s going to be disruptive.’ Companies need time to adjust to these things and then they will have to carry more headcount to cover."
There is also a view that companies need to change their philosophy on human resource.
Associate Professor Paulin Tay—Straughan, a sociologist with the National University of Singapore, said: "Right now, our investment in human resource is too short—term. We are looking at annual performance appraisals year after year — 12 months is a very short time. So if you have 12 months and you know that you are measured on what you have done in the 12 months, taking a couple of months off could be quite disastrous at least in the perception of the younger, particularly vulnerable professionals.
"It really has to be a long—term investment. We start work in our 20s and we’re not going to retire till we’re 65. We’re really going to have a long time in the organisation. We need to have an organisational shift towards work and start nurturing loyal, committed employees. Your employees will have a good 40 years with you, start to translate this investment into a more middle—term, at least, a longer time perspective. Invest in training, invest in allowing the employee to grow holistically because it will be a win—win situation for everyone."
Labour chief Lim Swee Say said more can be done to enhance work—life balance, not just for families, but also singles so they can start thinking about starting families.
He said: "I’ll say that in terms of work—life balance, if it’s too lopsided towards work, then it’s of course not good for the family. If it’s too lopsided towards the family, then it will affect the work and the economy. I think the challenge is how do we strike a balance. I would say that, on the whole, if we look at Singapore, today the balancing point appears to be too pro—work and not pro—family enough.
"I think as we move ahead, what we want to do is not to make sudden change, but to make a gradual change so that we can keep finding a more optimal balancing point. But the issue really is that for the work—life balance, I think the focus will be in terms of work versus employment and family.
"But our concern is that it has to go beyond that. I think the community must play a part as well, and the family must play a part as well, so that we can provide a total environment and not look for just one or two areas and hope that they will create change."
Proponents of pro—family policies said it is just a matter of changing mindsets.
Lim Soon Hock, chairman of the Centre for Fathering and National Family Council, said: "I don’t think you can achieve success or buy—in overnight. A good example is our National Service. In the early years, employers and businesses were unhappy about male employees having to be in camp for two weeks to a month doing reservist training. Today, it is institutionalised. So it’s about planning.
"I think if you look at newborns, (when the) good news of couples having babies come in, companies have nine months to plan for it and I think companies should adjust and like I said, take it as public duty to support all the changes and initiatives that are being debated and discussed, that will soon be implemented to help the nation reverse the total fertility rate."
Apart from enhanced paternity leave which will get the green light, the other recommendations — to do with housing policies or medical insurance for babies — are still just recommendations at this point. Consultations are ongoing and they will all go into a White Paper on population policies to be released by the end of this year or sometime early next year.
The good news is that this year, being the auspicious Dragon year, has resulted in a slight bump in the number of live births. There were more than 23,550 babies born between January till July this year. It is about a five per cent jump compared to the same period last year.
YOUR SAY: Is SNEF's concerns justified? How can paternity leave be implemented such that it does not interfere with productivity at work? Sign in below to post your comments.
I wonder what level in the employer's hierarchy those employees lucky enough to receive such generous leave benefits are at... Hmm, I think it's safe to say they're near the top, both in chain of command and pay scale. There's a good chance they're executive-level FTs too.
Pity the local hard-working bottom feeders then.
My concern is costs to the company. Is the govt going to reimburse the ompany for the salary during the period the male employee is away? Just like reservist period.
The same issue will arised for the male employee as for the female employee who may be "frozen"
by the boss.
One Option is to replace the NS with Paternity Leave.
NSMen with new borns will be exempted from in-camp for that year and be granted Paternity leave
This way, both the employer and employee does not lose out as the employee instead of going for in-camp, is given paternity leave instead. The employee (father) is also doing his "national service" in ensuring we have sufficient soldiers in the future.
I feel that it is a good idea to split some of maternity to the father so that both can be responsible for the their duties as parents. It also helps to lessen the work load and stress of those who have to cover the duties of those on maternity leave.