New dads working in Singapore-based Swedish firms cheer campaign to double paternity leave

Swedish automaker Volvo Group is part of 25 businesses to double paternity leave for employees by this year. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - When AstraZeneca medical director Vikram Shetty's daughter was born last November, his four weeks of paternity leave helped him ease the load on his wife and develop a bond with the baby.

Mr Shetty, 43, is among employees who benefited from the pharmaceutical giant's decision to sign a pledge last year to double paid paternity leave for workers from two weeks to four - as part of a campaign by the Swedish Chamber of Commerce Singapore (SwedCham).

A total of 25 Swedish businesses in Singapore, including clothing retail giant H&M and automaker Volvo Group, have signed up to double paternity leave for employees by this year.

Mr Shetty said: "Nothing prepares you to be a new parent, and a big aspect of the time away from work was to get in touch with my own emotions and feelings.

"Having a company ethos that understands the needs of new parents such as downtime, flexible work times and the need to also be present also has a positive effect on the well-being of my wife."

With the #DoubleUp initiative, SwedCham said it hopes to contribute to shifting mindsets in the workplace and broaden the conversation around the topic of gender equality and a more inclusive future.

The move was inspired by Swedish furniture giant Ikea, which doubled paid paternity leave benefits in 2017 to four weeks.

SwedCham's announcement comes a day after the release of a White Paper on Singapore women's development - it outlines the Government's plans to improve the lives of women.

Working fathers are now entitled to two weeks of paid paternity leave, while mothers get 16 weeks.

SwedCham said most firms that are pledging to double paternity leave are from sectors in which men have traditionally been the majority.

Among the latest group of SwedCham members to have signed up to the pledge are technology firm Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence and social learning platform Tigerhall.

Mr Matts Nilsson, who is director of Volvo Buses for Asia-Pacific Central, said the company has worked hard to improve gender balance, and has set itself higher benchmarks it plans to meet by 2030.

Hexagon technical service engineer Mook Zhao Jiang happened to be the company's first employee to enjoy the longer paternity leave when his daughter Kaitlyn was born earlier this month.

Mr Mook, 32, whose work usually involves being out in the field, said he was initially concerned about taking such a long break from work.

He said: "I was worried about what would happen to the duties I undertook daily, but I was happy to get more time to support my wife and bond with my newborn daughter.

"I am very encouraged to see more companies recognising the importance of fathers in children's lives, and I hope to see more companies take Hexagon's lead in this initiative."

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