SINGAPORE - Few companies here are giving paid leave for their employees to take care of their parents, partly because demand seems to be low for now.
A Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) survey of 300 firms last year found that only 4 per cent of firms provided eldercare leave. Seven in 10 of the surveyed firms were small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
A recent straw poll of 20 companies - including large corporations and SMEs - by The Straits Times also found that fewer than a third grant eldercare leave.
In all except one of those companies, fewer than two in 10 employees have used such leave.
At Cathay Organisation, for instance, only 15 per cent of its employees took parental care leave last year because most did not require it, said its spokesman.
"Almost half of our employees are below the age of 27 and so correspondingly, their parents would also be younger, healthier or more mobile," he added.
Similarly, only three in 10 of those in the civil service - Singapore's largest employer with about 80,000 workers - have taken eldercare leave since it was introduced in 2012.
Its spokesman said: "There are officers who do not use it as they do not have such needs now."
Last month, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, who has repeatedly called for the Government to seriously consider legislating eldercare leave, reiterated: "Even if it's only for a few days, it will provide great relief and is a strong signal that the Government supports families in their effort to care for their elderly at home."
However, the Government has rejected repeated calls to make parental care leave compulsory like childcare leave, saying that it would add to costs.
SNEF executive director Koh Juan Kiat said that firms draw up their leave schemes according to the needs of their staff, and it is best to let them decide on whether to implement eldercare leave.
"Some companies already have generous annual leave benefits and additional statutory leave will be too onerous for such companies," he said.
Some employers prefer flexibility, saying that there is no need to make the arrangement formal because when emergencies arise, they allow their staff to go on short notice anyway.
"Employers need the flexibility, because the labour market is tight and most are short-handed," said entrepreneur Wei Chan, 42, who runs several small food and beverage businesses. "It is not that they do not support their staff looking after their parents."
Still, some employers do see the merits in providing eldercare leave.
Royal Plaza on Scotts is planning to do so in 2016 after it has fully rolled out productivity initiatives that will ease the labour crunch, said its general manager, Mr Patrick Fiat.
"It is to provide our associates with better work-life balance and increase the happiness index in the workplace," he said.
The civil service had decided to offer parental care leave in expectation of a rapidly ageing population and smaller family units. This means that its officers with elderly parents would need time to take care of them, it had said.
By 2050, 32 per cent of Singaporeans will be older than 65, up from 9 per cent in 2010.
Executive chairman Fang Koh Look of training and consultancy firm Absolute Kinetics Consultancy, a rare SME that provides eldercare leave, agreed. "It is good human resource practice because of the ageing population," he said.
About two-thirds of its 130 employees have taken the two days of eldercare leave since it was introduced two years ago.
One of them, management consultant Teo Geok Leng, 57, took her 84-year-old father for a medical check-up in January.
She said: "Such leave helps caregivers like me. Maybe the number of days can be tied to how old the parents are, because those with older parents will need them more."
This article was published on April 19 in The Straits Times.
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