3 out of 4 caregivers lack eldercare leave: Poll

The National Trades Union Congress yesterday shared findings of a new survey which showed that more than three-quarters of working caregivers here do not enjoy eldercare leave.

That is why one of the labour movement's long-term goals is to push for family-care leave to be made law, said NTUC assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong.

She said: "In this ageing workforce... I think there's a need for us to re-examine the leave schemes we have, to see how we can reconfigure them so that they are more inclusive, and you can take care of employees with young families, and those with old families."

Speaking on the sidelines of an NTUC family event yesterday, she said in the short term, NTUC aims to have half of the unionised companies here providing flexible work arrangements or leave structures by 2015. This could include expanding the scope of existing leave categories - such as compassionate or critical-illness leave when family members die or are in intensive care - to also cover looking after dependants who require medical attention.

The online survey, conducted in August by U Family - NTUC's family development unit - was aimed at finding out more about the needs of Singaporeans with caregiving responsibilities.

Some 3,635 caregivers aged 21 to 65 participated in the survey. Almost all, or 94 per cent, are working adults.

Of the 3,418 working caregivers surveyed, 77 per cent said they do not have eldercare leave, and 62 per cent do not have flexi-work arrangements. To take care of family members, they would usually apply for annual or medical leave, or adjust their work timings - arriving late or leaving early from work.

Among the caregivers who are not working, 72 per cent left their jobs to look after family members. About three-quarters said they would have reconsidered their decision to quit if they were given flexi-work arrangement options.

Dr Mary Ann Tsao, chairman of Tsao Foundation, which specialises in eldercare, said she has come across "so many people who have lost their jobs or are stressed about losing employment because they take time off to look after their parents", so such legislation would "simply be common sense".

To ease employers into the new leave structure, should it become law, it could be introduced through sick-leave entitlement, said Dr Tsao. Her foundation, for instance, allows all its employees to use up to five of their 14 annual sick-leave days for family care.

But she added: "Ideally, employers should be required to give workers a certain number of days off separately for family care, like child-care leave because they are both family responsibilities and you have to give people time off if you want to retain them in the workforce."