6 in 10 dads did not take paternity leave last year, says MSF

Experts cite company culture, societal and personal attitudes as reasons for low take-up

Two-thirds of eligible fathers did not take any paternity leave last year, despite the Government's ongoing efforts to get men more involved in raising their children.

According to estimates released yesterday by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), the vast majority of fathers also did not take any shared parental leave.

The ministry was responding to Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who asked for the proportion of fathers who did not take government-paid paternity leave and shared parental leave.

The take-up rate for paternity leave was 35 per cent last year, compared with 53 per cent in 2017 and 47 per cent in 2016.

Experts say the relatively low take-up rates for paternity leave in Singapore could stem from a combination of company culture, societal attitudes on gender roles and self-policing at work.

MSF said its numbers were based on records of employers who submitted claims for leave taken by their employees, and the pool of eligible fathers based on their working status when they applied for the Baby Bonus.

MSF also pointed out that the take-up rate for paternity leave last year is likely to increase, as men have up to a year after their children's birth to take leave.

Even so, Singapore is lagging behind the Nordic countries such as Denmark and Sweden, where take-up rates for paternity leave stand at about 70 per cent to 80 per cent.

Government-paid paternity leave, introduced in 2013 for married couples, was doubled to two weeks in 2017.

Shared parental leave has also increased to four weeks, up from one week previously.

Singapore Management University sociologist Paulin Straughan said the low take-up rate among fathers could be partly due to traditional ideas about women as primary caregivers, though norms have progressed.

"It may also be about self-policing at the workplace. Some may not want to be absent too often in order to show they are committed and dedicated workers," she said.

But Professor Straughan also said the numbers could reflect private decisions by couples for one person to take a step back to care for their children, so the family unit as a whole is not disadvantaged.

Corporate leadership is another factor, said HR expert Erman Tan, former president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute.

Mr Tan said: "It is about whether your bosses and peers are supportive of you... or whether your colleagues make sarcastic remarks after you come back from leave."

Experts also noted that employees in smaller companies may not be aware of paternity leave benefits, while others may have informal arrangements in place which allow men to shoulder their family responsibilities without having to take leave.

Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said: "For example, mobile technology allows people to balance between work and family without having to formally apply for paternity leave."

In a ceremony to honour exemplary dads last month, President Halimah Yacob had urged more firms to adopt flexible policies for working fathers.

Ms Shailey Hingorani, who is head of research and advocacy at the Association of Women for Action and Research, said the low take-up rates for paternity leave reflect "the deep entrenchment of gender norms that think of men and women as primary breadwinners and caregivers respectively".

This view was echoed by Mr Ng, who told The Straits Times that society may still feel it is a woman's job to take care of children.

"It's 2019, I think it is time we equalised the roles... It sounds crazy that a father can't even take time off to spend time with his newborn child," he said, adding that residents have raised the issue to him.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2019, with the headline 6 in 10 dads did not take paternity leave last year, says MSF. Subscribe