Forum: Can parental absence due to childcare centre closures be officially covered?

A photo from March 26, 2020, shows the exterior of PCF Sparkletots Preschool at Blk 273 Tampines Street 22.
A photo from March 26, 2020, shows the exterior of PCF Sparkletots Preschool at Blk 273 Tampines Street 22.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

The Covid-19 situation and, in particular, the closure of the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots centre at Fengshan Block 126 are stark reminders that the current childcare leave entitlement is insufficient during the current pandemic.

For many working parents, childcare centres are the only option for looking after their child. As the parent of a child who has been affected by the four-day closure of all PCF centres in Singapore due to the Fengshan cluster, I am left wondering how any parent without a helper or relatives who can care for the child is realistically expected to deal with a 14-day closure.

If the parent works a five-day week, this would still mean recording 10 days of absence from work to care for the child. The current annual childcare leave entitlement is only six days, and would not be enough. Medical leave would not apply, either.

Why has the Ministry of Manpower not prepared employers and employees with a better support system regarding how to officially process absence from work due to the Covid-19 situation? The ministry has provided guidance only for people such as travellers affected by leave of absence or stay-home notices.

If a childcare centre closes for 14 days due to an outbreak, are all children who attend the centre, and their parents, given a leave of absence?

All we have been told is that "employers should be empathetic". This leaves the response entirely to the discretion of the employer, and does not answer the question of how the absence will be officially processed.

The Government needs to state clearly that all parental absence from work because of the closure of childcare centres due to Covid-19, regardless of the number of days, will be officially covered.

Joel Gwynne

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2020, with the headline 'Can parental absence due to childcare centre closures be officially covered?'. Print Edition | Subscribe