Keeping leave unpaid is fair balance

Keeping leave unpaid is fair balance
The extra four weeks of unpaid infant-care leave for public servants is a welcome addition to the options parents have for how they want to take care of their newborns.
PHOTO: Caroline Chia

The extra four weeks of unpaid infant-care leave for public servants is a welcome addition to the options parents have for how they want to take care of their newborns.

It comes under a three-year pilot scheme announced in Parliament on Thursday and is to be taken in the child's first year.

Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo pointed out that, in total, as long as one parent is a public servant, the couple can have up to 26 weeks - about six months - of leave between them.

The scheme comes on the back of recent leave policies, such as the mandatory two weeks of paternity leave and four weeks of shared parental leave.

Its value lies in the flexibility it gives to couples who may need the extra month.

For example, finding a domestic helper to look after their child may take more time.

Parents may also want to wait until their child is six months old before placing him in an infant-care centre, a point raised by Mrs Teo in Parliament.

UNSURE

However, while the leave is there for the taking, the take-up rate for it remains to be seen.

Because the leave is unpaid, couples will have to weigh the cost of one spouse going a month without drawing a salary.

Moreover, he or she will have to deal with the prospect of not being promoted that year, or even being resented by colleagues for taking a longer period of leave.

This is why keeping the leave unpaid is a fair balance to strike for now, as Mrs Teo pointed out that even paid leave is not fully utilised.

It is also prudent to mandate the extra leave only in the public sector for now, as sections of the private sector are struggling in an environment of sluggish growth.

All in all, the extra optional leave will provide new parents with more support in juggling the demands of work and infant-care.

However, it will take time to become the norm.

Its impact and take-up rate over the next three years should be closely tracked and made public.

charyong@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Mar 06, 2017.
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