SINGAPORE - More help is on the way for retrenched parents and those of stillborn and adopted children, as part of efforts to encourage Singaporeans to have more children.
Employers who voluntarily grant paid parental leave to employees who have not met the criteria to qualify for it can also get reimbursed by the Government, under changes to the Child Development Co-Savings Act (CDCA) passed on Monday (Aug 2).
The law, introduced in 2001, is best known for governing the Baby Bonus scheme.
During the debate on the proposed changes, Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling told Parliament that they are aimed at bolstering support for Singaporean children and their working parents, as well as employers, amid a changing environment.
As part of the changes, two new schemes will allow parents who are ineligible for paternity or adoption leave to qualify for benefits of up to $30,000 instead, calculated based on their income.
"Some working fathers and adoptive mothers may not qualify for paternity leave or adoption leave under the CDCA, respectively, owing to their employment arrangements," said Ms Sun.
"They may be on multiple short-term contracts, or had their contracts expire shortly before the birth or adoption of their child."
The new benefits for working fathers and adoptive mothers are similar to those already extended to working mothers under the government-paid maternity benefits scheme, but with cash given in lieu of the government-paid share of leave.
An estimated 500 working fathers and adoptive mothers will benefit from the new schemes. While the number is small, it is important to ensure these parents are supported in raising their children, said Ms Sun.
The schemes are not intended to replace the existing paternity leave and adoption leave schemes, she added. Those who qualify for these leave schemes will not be eligible for the new benefits.
However, the benefits can be paid out to parents whose contracts expire or who are retrenched while they are on parental leave, to cover the remaining government-paid leave allowance that they have to forfeit.
Another notable change is that parents of stillborn Singaporean children will now be entitled to the leave allowances and benefit schemes they would have received if their children had been born alive.
Previously, employers did not have to extend such benefits to parents of stillborn children.
Ms Sun also said the Act will now count stillborn children or those who have died towards the number of children a mother has had, which is used to determine her eligibility for government-paid leave.
This will allow these mothers and their employers to receive higher reimbursements or payments, she added.
Mothers with one or two children are entitled to eight weeks of employer-paid leave and eight weeks of government-paid leave. The Government pays for all 16 weeks of maternity leave for mothers with three or more children.
Ms Sun said her ministry will also have the discretion to reimburse progressive employers who have gone the extra mile and allowed employees to take parental leave even though they had not worked the minimum of three continuous months prior to the birth or adoption of their child.
Other changes are aimed at tightening certain policy gaps.
Fathers, whether wed or unwed, will now be disqualified from paid childcare leave and unpaid infant-care leave if their children are born from extramarital affairs.
Ms Sun said it was not the intent of the Act to allow this, as the desired social norm remains parenthood within marriage.
Pregnant mothers will continue to be entitled to these leave schemes so that the child's well-being is not compromised, and the fathers will become eligible if they subsequently marry.
Other single unwed fathers whose children are not born from an extramarital affair will continue to be eligible for the leave schemes.
Mothers of non-citizen children who qualify for maternity leave under the Employment Act will also no longer be eligible to receive government-paid maternity benefits if the children later gain citizenship.
This is to prevent the mother from receiving both paid leave and cash benefits simultaneously, which is possible under the current provisions.
Ms Sun noted that this change will ensure equal treatment for mothers whose children are citizens from birth and those whose children are new citizens.
The law was also changed to improve checks and accountability, including giving the Government the power to claw back erroneous payments made due to any error.