Budget 2018 debate

More help for caregivers and working mums please

The burden of caring for the young and elderly often fall on the shoulders of women, said Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi, who called for a study to better understand the issues faced by women workers.
The burden of caring for the young and elderly often fall on the shoulders of women, said Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi, who called for a study to better understand the issues faced by women workers.ST PHOTO: ALVIN HO

Call to mandate the right to ask for flexible work arrangements if efforts to coax bosses fail to work

The work of those who take care of the elderly and bring up children was highlighted yesterday as four MPs called for more help for caregivers, working mums and families.

They suggested ways to lend them a hand in juggling their duties at home and in the office, so that they do not lag behind.

For Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi and Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh, women were a concern.

Ms Thanaletchimi suggested mandating the right for workers, particularly women, to ask for flexible work arrangements if efforts to coax bosses to do so voluntarily fail. She cited the case of a nurse denied flexible working hours as she could not find a colleague to take over some of her duties. The nurse gave up her job to look after her children.

"Singapore remains a rather conservative country when it comes to caring for and valuing the family that is behind every worker. The burden of caring for the young and elderly often fall on the shoulders of women," said Ms Thanaletchimi, who is the president of the Healthcare Services Employees' Union .

She urged the Government to commission a study to better understand the issues faced by women workers in different industries.

Dr Goh, a sociologist, devoted much of his speech to the gender pay gap, which he said has not improved from 2006 to 2016. The gap in median monthly income between men and women here has remained around 18 to 19 per cent in this period. "We need to tackle the gender pay gap because it will affect our future senior women and their retirement security," he said.

Identifying the health and social services sector as having one of the largest gender pay gaps, with women earning around $1,540 less than men a month, he wants more to be done to raise the wages of nurses, who are mostly women.

While nurses' wages here have been improving, they still lag behind those of their counterparts in less populous countries with high demand for nurses, such as Israel and Australia, he said. Raising their wages can correct perceptions that nursing is a "low-skilled job", and since women form the bulk of nurses, it will help to close the gender pay gap, he added.

Other MPs, like Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC), asked if eldercare or family care leave could be made mandatory to help "double-sandwiched" young parents who take care of children and aged parents. They are growing in number as the population ages and more marry and have children later.

Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) wants greater flexibility in the proximity housing grant enhancement. For instance, the $10,000 subsidy for singles buying resale flats to live near their parents can be based on a proportion of the flat's price instead of a fixed sum, subject to a minimum base and maximum ceiling. This can help those forced to buy flats in mature estates because their parents live there.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2018, with the headline 'More help for caregivers and working mums please'. Print Edition | Subscribe