As new dads take longer leave, firms find ways to cope

Ikea staff members Dingson Balahadia (left), 36, with son Elijah Diego Balahadia, two months old, and Masree Mascomb (right), 38, with daughter Nur Maisarah Masree, three months old. They are among the fathers who have benefited from the company's en
Ikea staff members Dingson Balahadia (left), 36, with son Elijah Diego Balahadia, two months old, and Masree Mascomb (right), 38, with daughter Nur Maisarah Masree, three months old. They are among the fathers who have benefited from the company's enhanced paternity leave of four weeks.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Some companies ask male staff to take their two-week paternity leave in parts to minimise work disruption

About 8,000 fathers have taken a second week of paternity leave since last year, even as some firms try to cope with their male staff being away for longer.

About 6,200 fathers of children born last year and 1,700 fathers of those born in the first five months of this year have taken the second week, according to Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) figures given to The Straits Times.

Initially, employers could volunteer to give the second week to fathers with children born from 2015, and would be reimbursed by the Government if they provided it.

However, it was made mandatory to give this to fathers of children born from this year.

Fathers can use their government-paid paternity leave up to a year after their child's birth, said an MSF spokesman.

Figures for last year and this year will be finalised at the end of March 2018 and March 2019 respectively, when the deadline for the submission of claims is over. There were over 33,100 and 13,100 citizen births - babies born to at least one Singaporean parent - last year and in the first five months of this year respectively, according to figures in the Registry of Births and Deaths. Figures for this year are preliminary.

 

Some fathers do not take the two weeks in succession to minimise disruption at work and to support their wives at other times during their children's first year.

While large firms have generally found it manageable, some small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have had it tougher.

"With annual leave, public holidays, leave for NSman training and paternity leave, a male employee could be away from work for as long as three months," said Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises.

Teamwork needed as colleagues take over new fathers' duties

"To be sure, giving someone paternity leave does not happen every year, and typically happens just two to three times in his life, but it's still another incremental cost and some businesses feel that there's already been a substantial amount of leave given to employees," he said, adding that there have been more pro-family laws in recent years.

For instance, giving paternity leave was first made compulsory in 2013, with employers having to give a week.

Since that year, parents of children aged seven to 12 were also entitled to two days of childcare leave per parent, per year.

Some companies, especially SMEs, try to minimise work disruption by asking the fathers not to take the two weeks continuously.

Some companies, especially SMEs, try to minimise work disruption by asking the fathers not to take the two weeks continuously.

Mr Ethen Ong, chief executive of training and consultancy firm Positive Intentions, had his first child in March, just a month after his male colleague also had a baby.

The firm has 10 staff.

Mr Ong, 32, has taken the two weeks of paternity leave, but even his first week was not taken continuously, due to work matters.

He said: "We were smack in the middle of a big project then, so we arranged it such that (the colleague) took the first week of leave at a stretch, but spread out the use of the second week.

"He was in operations, and even when he was away for a week, we could feel the strain."

He added: "My wife was accommodating and understanding of my challenges, since I'm running my own business. Our parents also offered support."

Two of the 12 staff at renovation website Renopedia are eligible for paternity leave this year.

When asked how the company copes, chief executive James Soh said: "We try not to let just one person handle a specific job role, so if someone is not around, someone else can easily take over.

"That's teamwork."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2017, with the headline 'As new dads take longer leave, firms find ways to cope'. Print Edition | Subscribe