Extra month of unpaid infant care leave for civil servants

Extra month of unpaid infant care leave for civil servants
Public servants Linda Wee, 32 and Roy 35, welcomed their first baby, Rheya, recently. They will each be eligible for additional 4 weeks unpaid infant care leave under the public sector leave pilot.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Three-year pilot scheme to help young working adults ease into parenthood

To encourage the stork, goodies like enhanced housing grants were introduced in Budget 2017 last week.

Yesterday, Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Josephine Teo threw one more incentive into the mix - an additional month of unpaid infant care leave to help make young working adults' transitions to parenthood more seamless.

Announcing this during the Committee of Supply debate, Mrs Teo said this will be rolled out first in the public sector as a three-year pilot.

The leave has to be taken in the first year after the child is born.

This means that as long as one parent is a civil servant, the couple can have up to 26 weeks of leave shared between them.

Currently, both working parents can together enjoy five months of paid leave in the first year after their child is born, and two weeks of unpaid leave.

From this year, the law provides for a second week of paternity leave. Enhancements to shared parental leave - from one week to four weeks - and adoption leave - from four weeks to twelve weeks - will also take effect in July.

"However, even with the latest enhancements, the return to regular work may still be tough for those without strong family support and who need centre-based infantcare," said Mrs Teo.

She added that while infantcare centres can take in babies as young as two months old, most parents feel more confident when their babies are about six months old. This means a caregiving gap of around a month.

By rolling out this scheme in the public sector, a balance will be struck between providing better workplace support for parents, while recognising that businesses are still adjusting to recent parental leave enhancements.

NO MAYBE

Under this pilot, Mrs Teo said supervisors in the public sector - including ministries and statutory boards - will no longer be able to say "maybe yes, maybe no" when employees apply for parental leave.

The additional month of leave will be unpaid as the National Population and Talent Division assessed that further paid leave does not benefit the parents.

"Our observation is that even with paid parental leave, some parents have not been utilising them in full. Some do not need all the leave provided; others face pressures at work that prevent them from taking more parental leave. Further paid leave does not benefit these parents," Mrs Teo said.

"Instead, parents want better assurance of workplace support, that they can take all their parental leave provisions if they need them."

Rolling out the three-year scheme will come with its fair share of challenges, Mrs Teo acknowledged.

She said: "As it is, some employers face great difficulty in accommodating staff with childcare needs. Some parents also tell of the pushback they experience from co-workers. Extending parental leave can unwittingly be an added source of tension at the workplace."

She also hopes some private companies can join in to lead the way despite this being a public sector pilot.

Association of Small & Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee thinks not all companies can extend such a scheme, especially SMEs with their limited resources and rising costs.

The Singapore Business Federation declined to comment.

Safety executive Desmond Teo, 31, whose wife is a teacher, said they are unlikely to take unpaid infant care leave.

"As much as we want to spend time with our children, living expenses are high and we would rather take paid leave and work to provide for the family," said Mr Teo, who plans to have a second child in the next two to three years.

- ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ELAINE LEE AND SIM YAN LING


This article was first published on March 3, 2017.
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