Dads may get more paternity leave

Mr Terence Tan, 37, an algorithmic forex trader, playing with his one-year-old son Darius at home on Feb 5.
Mr Terence Tan, 37, an algorithmic forex trader, playing with his one-year-old son Darius at home on Feb 5. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Second week of leave looks set to be made compulsory; leave shared by couple may go beyond current one week

Dads can look forward to getting more time to spend with their newborns, as Singapore strives to draw the stork to visit more often.

The second week of paternity leave, now voluntary for employers, looks set to be made compulsory.

The Government is also looking at letting working mothers share more of their four-month paid maternity leave with their husbands. Currently, they can share only one of the 16 weeks of their leave.

These possible changes to the law to help new fathers play a bigger role in parenting are being considered to help lift birth rates, Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, who oversees population matters, said yesterday.

 

Mrs Teo, who took over the population portfolio last October, raised these possibilities in a Facebook post titled "Confessions of a New Parent". It arose from a dialogue last year when she met more than 20 first-time parents.

The post follows the release of official figures earlier this week that show Singapore's Golden Jubilee year ended with at least 33,793 new babies, 600 more than in 2014. The figure is the highest in 13 years.

It also comes after enhancements to the Marriage and Parenthood Package were announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at last year's National Day Rally.

The Baby Bonus cash gift was raised by $2,000, and the Medisave grant for newborns was increased by $1,000 to $4,000. These changes were backdated to take effect from Jan 1 last year.

The current extended paternity leave, which was announced at the August rally as well, was backdated to January last year.

Mrs Teo noted that, every year, the number of women taking paid maternity leave is double that of men taking paternity leave.

"Dads should not be made to feel bad that they're taking paternity or childcare leave," Mrs Teo wrote.

"Union leaders have urged me to set a timeline for legislating the second week of paternity leave."

She said some new fathers have expressed concern that their bosses have indicated that taking more time off work to care for their babies - on top of their reservist duties - would affect their performance grade.

"This ought to change," she said.

Further, fewer than 5 per cent of eligible fathers now take up the shared parental leave.

But Mrs Teo is optimistic that more fathers can be coaxed if their leave period is "meaningfully extended" beyond the current one week.

She also said she has been "quite persuaded" that, should a married couple share more of the maternity leave, fathers could step in to care for the baby if mothers need to return to work.

For instance, should a working mother take 12 weeks of maternity leave, the couple can then decide how to split the last four weeks.

"If the couple so chooses and dad also works with an enlightened employer who offers voluntary paternity leave, dad can have up to six weeks with baby," she said.

Mrs Teo said feedback from mothers indicates that the change would give couples greater flexibility on how to use their leave. Instead of depriving mothers of their leave because their husbands cannot take more time off, they will have the full 16 weeks.

Children with more involved fathers tend to develop better, physically and emotionally, she said, citing four international studies.

The mother of three also gave a peek into her personal life to show how parenting ought to be a "true partnership". Recounting that her husband was "more diligent in some regards", she said he would wake up in the middle of the night to give medication to their sick child, among other things.

She said: "We want to better support today's young couples in raising families, and help daddies who want to do more for their children."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2016, with the headline 'Dads may get more paternity leave'. Print Edition | Subscribe