Changes to allow pay claims for second week of paternity leave

Posed photo of a father with his two-month old son.
Posed photo of a father with his two-month old son. ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

Firms can get govt reimbursement from July; kids of unwed parents put on savings scheme

From July, companies can get the Government to reimburse them for the pay of employees taking a second week of paternity leave.

They can do so for fathers who began to take the extra week of leave from Aug 24 last year, the day after the change was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech.

The amount of the claim, however, is capped at $2,500.

In another move to support parenthood, children of unwed parents will also be included in a savings scheme in which the Government matches the deposits that parents make by up to $6,000.

The Child Development Account (CDA) scheme is to help pay for childcare and healthcare costs.

These changes to the Child Development Co-savings Act were passed in Parliament yesterday.

During the debate to amend the Act, Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said: "Fathers play an important role in parenting, and shared parental responsibility should become a way of life in our society...

"This additional week should allow fathers to be more active in raising their children."

The extra week is allowed to all married fathers whose child was born on or after Jan 1 last year. But it will not be mandatory until Jan 1 next year. Currently, only one week is compulsory.

HARD-FOUGHT BENEFIT

Together with the ministry, we have all fought hard for this. I do hope this opens the floodgates for help and support for single unwed mothers and the days of penalising them are history.

MR LOUIS NG (NEE SOON GRC), on the inclusion of children of unwed parents in the CDA scheme.

The extra leave is also available to men who applied to adopt a child on or after Jan 1 last year.

Last year, four in 10 eligible fathers took the first week of paternity leave. Figures for the take-up rate of the second week will be available in the second half of this year, said a Ministry of Social and Family Development spokesman.

As for the CDA scheme, the Government announced in this year's Budget that from September, it will credit $3,000 into a CDA account even when parents do not do so. This First Step grant will be given to children of unwed parents as well.

"As CDA funds can only be used for approved educational and healthcare-related uses for the child, this can help to enhance the child's outcomes," said Mr Tan.

During the debate, the changes were supported by both the MPs who spoke on it.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) called them "timely", especially the moves concerning unwed mothers.

"Together with the ministry, we have all fought hard for this," he said. He added that 16 other members of the House and the Association of Women for Action and Research had spoken up on it for 12 years.

"I do hope this opens the floodgates for help and support for single unwed mothers and the days of penalising them are history, " he said.

Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh, from the Workers' Party, said: "It is a good first step by the Government in addressing the inequalities facing families seeking to have children. Because equality matters."

Dr Goh suggested extending the Baby Bonus cash gift of $6,000 to children of unwed parents, too, but to deposit it in the CDA for the child's use.

He also wanted the Government to look into the housing needs of unwed citizen parents, who have to wait till age 35 to buy a flat.

Responding, Mr Tan said even as these children are being helped, "we must continue to try to encourage and support parenthood within the confines of marriage".

He said the benefits for unmarried parents must directly contribute to the child's development or caregiving needs.

He also said these children are not without any government help.

They already receive education and healthcare subsidies, Medisave grants for newborns, infant-care and childcare subsidies, and foreign domestic worker levy concessions.

Further changes will be made to the Act later this year to include unwed mothers in the paid 16-week maternity leave scheme.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2016, with the headline 'Changes to allow pay claims for second week of paternity leave'. Print Edition | Subscribe