Extra paternity leave may be mandatory in a few years' time

The newly announced extra week of paternity leave is voluntary for now, but may be made mandatory in a few years' time.

This will give companies struggling to cope with the labour crunch and economic restructuring time to adjust, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu, who oversees population issues.

Before making the change mandatory, the Government "will discuss it first with employers and unions", she added.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Sunday at the National Day Rally that paternity leave will be doubled and is backdated to take effect at the start of this year.

The Government will pay for the extra week of leave, he added.

Yesterday, Ms Fu said employers can apply for reimbursement from the Government from the middle of next year, capped at $2,500 per week.

The Government is encouraging bigger companies to take the lead in offering the extra week, and the public service has come on board.

The Public Service Division, Singapore's largest employer with 141,000 workers, said yesterday it recognises a father's role in caring for and raising children and will take the lead in implementing the new leave.

The aim is to "set the tone in the employment market", Ms Fu said.

"The labour market is competitive, so if you want to attract better people and retain good staff, you'll have to follow this trend and offer as competitive (employment) packages as possible," she added.

The paternity leave can be taken by default as a two-week block within 16 weeks after the child's birth.

Alternatively, it can be taken any time within a year of the child's birth if agreed on by the employee and employer.

Working fathers are eligible for the extra paternity leave if their employers voluntarily provide the leave, and if they worked continuously for at least three months before the child was born. The father must also be married to the child's mother, and the child must be a Singapore citizen.

A National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) spokesman said more than 21,000 fathers have taken paternity leave as of May.

Paternity leave was introduced in May 2013. The NPTD said more than 40 per cent of fathers with children born that year took the leave.

The NPTD spokesman added that the take-up rate is in line with those of other countries, starting off lower but increasing gradually over time.

Said Ms Fu: "It would be nice to have a take-up rate of another 10 percentage points."

Charissa Yong

This article was first published on August 26, 2015.
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