Budget debate: Give mothers flexi-work, fair grading during maternity leave, says Desmond Choo

These measures will result in stronger female participation in the workforce at all levels, to create not only a more equal and inclusive society but also increase Singapore's economic growth and productivity.
These measures will result in stronger female participation in the workforce at all levels, to create not only a more equal and inclusive society but also increase Singapore's economic growth and productivity.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Women should have the right to flexi-work arrangements after giving birth and be graded fairly while on maternity leave, said Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) on Wednesday (Feb 26).

Listed companies need to also review regularly their structure to ensure women are not grossly underrepresented in key leadership positions, he added in Parliament during the debate on the Budget statement.

These measures will result in stronger female participation in the workforce at all levels, to not only create a more equal and inclusive society but also increase Singapore's economic growth and productivity, said Mr Choo, who is also assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

Despite the country's progress, he pointed out that women continue to be punished for being mothers and earn less for the same work.

A study by the Manpower Ministry earlier this year found the gender wage gap was 16.3 per cent in 2018, and 6 per cent when adjusted mainly for occupational differences.

This, he added, "runs counter to the principle that all things being equal, men and women must obtain the same pay if they are doing the same jobs with similar outcomes".

A woman is entitled to 16 weeks of maternity leave, with the Government paying her salary for the first eight weeks for the first two children and the full 16 weeks for the third child onwards.

Yet, women are graded on the same 12-month timescale as their male colleagues, which means the women are already at a disadvantage, said Mr Choo.

"Good talent on maternity would not be given a level playing field to progress," he noted, which may have contributed over time to a lack of women in leadership positions.

 
 
 

He suggested that companies grade women on maternity leave on an eight-month basis.

Mr Choo also lamented that some women quit the workforce because fewer than half of the companies in Singapore offer full-time flexible work arrangements, he said.

"The responsibility of caregiving and housework also continue to disproportionately affect women, who find themselves taking on the double shift of working a job and taking on most of the household responsibilities," he said.

Normalising flexible working options will help working caregivers with balancing careers and home responsibilities, he said, adding that the coronavirus outbreak shows that organisations can operate flexibly.

Citing a 2018 International Monetary Fund article, he said gender diversity helps to bring different skills and perspectives to the workplace, and women and men complement each other at work.

 
 

Mr Choo acknowledged that absolute gender parity in job outcomes is "not necessarily a normative ideal".

"But there is immense value to pursue the economic outcomes of greater equality, besides addressing the social issues and the values we engender as a nation."