Working parents of young children would be heartened by news that the number of childcare centres set up at workplaces has gone up by nearly 50 per cent from 2012. This means that a growing number of such parents now have the comfort of knowing that their toddlers are close by. What is equally important is that the 390 childcare centres at workplaces last year were spread over the labour landscape, ranging from commercial or government buildings to industrial estates. Indeed, the opening of a childcare centre on Sentosa island reveals the importance of these facilities, even on the fringes of Singapore's economic geography. Evidently, the centres are important to making the workplace family-friendly.
This recognition marks an advance in public perceptions. The issue came to the fore in 2000, when the Government was concerned that mothers who quit work after childbirth tended to do so permanently because the exigencies of work prevented them from spending time with their children. Even the provision of a series of grants for such centres did not help, because the take-up remained low. It was reported in 2012 that there were only 35 centres in offices or near workplaces, out of some 950 childcare centres countrywide. That dismal proportion could be explained by the fact that not many companies or operators were aware of the subsidies available to encourage the setting up of such centres.
Clearly, the times have caught up with the logic of maternity and paternity. The induction of large numbers of women into the industrial workforce helped transform the economy of early-independent Singapore. Over the decades, women sought a better balance between their economic and familial functions. However, when they had to choose between the two - for instance, because of inflexible working arrangements - many preferred to be mothers over workers, even though this choice reduced their financial prowess both within the family and outside it. The arrival of more childcare centres at the workplace is a signal that they do not have to choose between two worthwhile objectives. Indeed, the possibility of more fathers being close to their children at the centres extends their shared responsibilities at home for the nurturing of children.
It is through steps such as these that Singapore can seek to stay abreast of international developments. The International Labour Organisation's Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention, for example, seeks to promote policies to reduce work-family conflict and combat labour market discrimination resulting from family responsibilities. Mothers deserve support from all quarters. Childcare centres are an investment in an economic future built on the emotional and educational well-being of the young. After all, without them, a nation would not have any future at all.