Equalise paternity and maternity leave benefits

Posed photo of a baby.
Posed photo of a baby.PHOTO: ST FILE

I have been blessed with four beautiful children, and each time my wife gave birth, I took two weeks of annual leave or paternity leave to be at home to help out.

This allowed me to ensure that both my wife's and children's needs were met during the initial confinement period.

While two weeks of leave may seem a luxury, given that there was no paternity leave entitlement in Singapore before 2012, I still think that it is insufficient in today's context.

Families can benefit in many ways from a father being able to stay at home as well for the 16 weeks that new mothers are on maternity leave.

Husbands can help to alleviate the physical strain on their wives.

The bond developed between father and child over four months would be immeasurably stronger than the one developed in a fortnight.

Fathers will also have the opportunity to develop a more nurturing disposition and learn childcare skills, relieving the burden on the mother who would otherwise have to bear the responsibility on her own after the father returns to work.

Equalising paternity and maternity leave benefits will level the playing field between men and women in the workplace.

Employers will no longer have an excuse to give jobs, promotions or higher pay to men. Female employees will not feel bad when they go on maternity leave since men will have the same leave entitlement.

Offering equal paternity leave to men may encourage more women to have children since their husbands can stay at home to help with the baby for the full duration of their maternity leave.

Although current legislation allows a father to take up to six weeks of paid leave, the majority still choose not to take the full six weeks due to negative pressure from employers. There should be clear legislation to ban discriminatory employment practices against people who utilise their parental leave entitlements.

However, to lower the impact of longer paternity leave on employers, new operationally ready national servicemen fathers should be allowed to defer their annual in-camp training for up to one year from the date of their child's birth.

These measures can go a long way to encourage more young people to become parents in Singapore.

Daniel Oon Ban Hock

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2019, with the headline 'Equalise paternity and maternity leave benefits'. Print Edition | Subscribe