2 weeks of paternity leave to be legislated

A second week of paternity leave, now voluntary for employers, will be made compulsory.
A second week of paternity leave, now voluntary for employers, will be made compulsory.PHOTO: ST FILE

2nd week of paternity leave, now voluntary for bosses, to be made mandatory: Josephine Teo

Fathers will soon get more leave to spend time with their newborns.

A second week of paternity leave, now voluntary for employers, will be made compulsory, Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo said.

"We are looking at when we should put this into law," she told the Singapore media on Friday, at the end of a visit to Denmark and South Korea to study population policies.

Mrs Teo, who oversees population issues, also said that employers will be given adequate notice.

When paternity leave was first introduced in 2013, they were notified of the change four months before the law kicked in. "They adjusted quite well. I'll see what I can do to give them a little more notice."

This extension of paternity leave, paid for by the Government, is one of the changes - to help parents balance work and family as well as lift birth rates - likely to be announced when Parliament debates ministries' plans next month.

Singapore had 33,793 citizen babies last year, 600 more than 2014, and the highest figure in 13 years.

There are also plans to let working mums share more of their four-month paid maternity leave with their husbands. Couples can now share only one of the 16 weeks.

Mrs Teo feels this can be expanded as some mums would like to return to work sooner. "We are in consultation with employer groups and the labour movement," she said.

Also being studied are more childcare facilities for infants under 18 months, including arrangements like having professional caregivers look after small groups at home.

The Government will also discuss more flexible work arrangements with employers and unions.

Several companies have expressed concern about these moves raising business costs, but Mrs Teo said such pro-family policies had to be seen from a broader perspective.

She recounted how she had, over the past week, asked South Korean and Danish employers why they were supportive of such policies.

"The response from the employers was very consistent: because it makes good business sense.

"If we're able to fulfil this aspiration of employees to achieve better work-life balance, to meet their requirement of having more flexible work arrangements, then we stand a better chance of getting more talented employees and that is good for business," she said.

Mrs Teo said there is no one silver bullet to raise birth rates. The Government can do much, such as provide affordable, quality childcare, but community support - especially from employers - is key.

She noted that while South Korea and Denmark have similar policies for paternity leave, 60 per cent of Danish dads use it, while less than 2 per cent of Korean dads do so.

In Singapore, about 40 per cent of dads used paternity leave last year.

Denmark's total fertility rate (TFR) is 1.69, while South Korea's is 1.21, slightly below Singapore's 1.25.

MP Seah Kian Peng, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Social and Family Development and a board member of the Centre for Fathering, said the move to legislate the second week of paternity leave is much needed.

Most employers will otherwise take the easy way out and not give it, he said. "This little nudge will, hopefully, go some way towards (building) stronger families."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 20, 2016, with the headline '2 weeks of paternity leave to be legislated'. Print Edition | Subscribe