Parents back plan for more paternity leave

Forex trader Terence Tan with his 11-month-old son Darius. With careful planning of his leave and support from his boss, Mr Tan managed to take one month of leave from work. While fathers like Mr Tan support being given more paternity leave, some exp
Forex trader Terence Tan with his 11-month-old son Darius. With careful planning of his leave and support from his boss, Mr Tan managed to take one month of leave from work. While fathers like Mr Tan support being given more paternity leave, some experts cautioned against being hasty, saying some SMEs may face difficulties in having staff on extended leave. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

For first-time parents like forex trader Terence Tan, the first month after the child is born is a crucial transition period during which they learn how to care for a baby.

Mr Tan told The Straits Times his and his wife's schedules revolved around their son, now 11 months old.

"Time flies and before we know it, the day is gone," the 37-year-old said. "We feed our baby every three hours, change his diapers and bathe him. The same cycle continues at night."

With careful planning of his leave and support from his boss at the firm where he was working then, Mr Tan strung together one month of leave from work.

It must be difficult for fathers who cannot get such long leave, he added, as he cheered the Government's plan to look at making it compulsory for bosses to give a second week of paid paternity leave and extending the shared parental leave scheme beyond the current one week.

Many, like IT executive Daniel Tan, are less fortunate. He works at a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) that has not opted into the scheme to give employees a second week of paternity leave.

The father of a 7½-month-old boy recalled: "In the first week, I was running on an adrenaline high. But after I went back to work, I felt I was not productive because I wanted to be with my family."

Ms Claire Ang, 30, a process engineer with a nine-month-old boy, said she had "a lot of fear" when her husband returned to work after the first week."There are times when you feel emotional after giving birth and you want support.''

She added: "My husband helped to change diapers, burp the baby, and soothe him when he cried."

Mr Desmond Choo, a unionist who is an MP for Tampines GRC, has called for progressive work practices for new parents.

Father to a four-month-old girl, he said yesterday that the review of parental perks shows the Government is serious about supporting families and helping fathers.

While the take-up rate for paternity leave is low, he noted: "Nobody thought 16 weeks of maternity leave was acceptable but now everyone thinks it is reasonable." Maternity leave was extended from 12 to 16 weeks in October 2008.

He said the Government should give bosses a timeline for implementing the two weeks of paternity leave.

But some experts cautioned against being hasty. Dr Kang Soon Hock of SIM University, said the slow take-up of paternity leave could be due to companies requiring "some period of adjustment".

Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee said SMEs face "quite a lot of strain" amid the economic restructuring. Adding on more leave "really reduces the number of man days'' at work.

He proposed exempting a father from reservist duties in the year he takes paternity leave so that there "may be some kind of balance".

Mr Chan Chong Beng of the Workforce Advancement Federation, which helps SMEs, wants special provisions to help businesses with few workers if the two-week paternity leave becomes mandatory.

"In SMEs with only 10 workers, one person on extended leave can really affect operations."

Walter Sim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2016, with the headline 'Parents back plan for more leave'. Print Edition | Subscribe