Member of Parliament Louis Ng raised the issue of childcare sick leave and paternity leave in Parliament today (Mar. 2).
Childcare sick leave for all working parents
Admitting that he sounds "like a broken record", Ng called for the government to consider providing childcare sick leave to all working parents on a per-child basis.
"Civil servants are also using this childcare sick leave. If the government feels that childcare sick leave is important for the people who work for us, then why is it not important for the people we serve? Let's level this playing field. Let's also not use flexible work arrangement to justify not providing childcare sick leave. If this reason is true, then why do civil servants who have flexible work arrangement also have childcare sick leave?"
He added that paternity leave is important for the nation, following a study by National University Singapore (NUS).
Quoting the study from June 2021, Ng said that children whose fathers take paternity leave are significantly less likely to have behavioural issues, and such families have fewer internal conflicts and a lower likelihood of maternal depression, among other benefits.
Look into paternity leave for lower-income workers
"However, the study also found that fathers in more labour intensive jobs such as machine operators, and cleaners, were half as likely to take paternity leave as fathers working as legislators, senior officials and managers. We need to do more to help lower-income fathers take the paternity leave."
He asked for the government to conduct a targeted study on the barriers to taking paternity leave for lower-income workers, as well as to look into policies to increase the usage of paternity leave, and look into incentivising employers who support their employees to take their paternity leave.
Parents need more time to care for children
In response to Ng's statement, Second Minister for Finance Indranee Rajah agreed that parents need more flexibility and time away from work to care for their children.
Based on research, she said that a key factor affecting the level of utilisation of paternity leave is workplace support.
"This includes whether supervisors are supportive of fathers taking leave and whether colleagues are willing to cover their duties. In some labour intensive jobs. Employers may be less willing to let fathers go on extended leave, due to the challenge of finding covering arrangements."
Under such circumstances, she said that employers could "exercise more flexibility" in the father's utilisation of paternity leave, such as taking leave in more than one period within the child's first year to minimise disruptions to business operations.
Indranee added that the government will consider Ng's feedback, continue to review the scope for more parental leave provisions, and work with employers to encourage the utilisation of such leaves.
However, she reasoned that supporting the caregiving needs of parents must be balanced with the manpower and operational needs of employers.
This is especially so for small and medium-sized enterprises, some of whom may be grappling with the effects of the pandemic, she said.
Therefore, instead of legislating more childcare leave, the government aims to "lead by example" and encourage employers to follow suit by exercising more flexibility and extending childcare leave where possible.
Singapore will also have to "go beyond government policies" when it comes to juggling work and parenting commitments—instead, the country needs to come together as a society to build a more family-friendly Singapore for a more sustainable approach, Indranee elaborated.
Not the first time
This is not the first time that Ng has raised issues on childcare leave and paternity leave in Singapore.
In a Facebook post from 2019, he called for the government to consider increasing childcare leave benefits, especially for parents with multiple children.
In Parliament the same year, he also asked about the percentage of fathers who had not taken any government-paid paternity leave and shared parental leave.
Top image screenshot from MCI/YoutTube.