Supporting Parenthood via Parental Leave

MP Louis Chua

Mr Chua Kheng Wee Louis (Sengkang): After hitting a recent high of 1.96 in 1988, Singapore’s TFR has been steadily on the decline, down to new lows of 1.1 and 1.12 in 20 21 and 2022 respectively.

While our enhancement of the baby bonus scheme in Budget 2023 is welcomed, it is time we adequately address the root cause of the low fertility problem and tackle the concerns of parents and would-be parents alike. More policies and spending should therefore be directed towards tackling deep societal, cultural and institutional issues that currently discourage women, with agreement from their male partners, from taking part in procreation.

First, address stereotypes of gender roles and establish the idea of equal shared responsibilities. Based on the Ministry of Manpower (MOM)’s Labour Force in Singapore 2022 Report of caregivers who are outside the labour force, a dominant 89% were females. If we work on entrenching equal shared responsibilities, young mothers, who fear loss of time, identity, personhood and even employment, means they have more time to rest, pursue their aspirations and contribute to the community at large. Meanwhile, men who try to take on greater responsibilities for caregiving will be able to put aside their fears of being discriminated against in the workplace or facing backlash for the lack of perceived work commitment.

Earlier this year, I received an email from my company’s HR to update employees about the parental leave enhancements from 2023. The firm is extending and increasing the flexibility of parental leave with all parents benefiting from 26 weeks of fully paid leave for primary caregivers and six weeks for secondary caregivers. This is regardless of the gender of the employee and there is also the option to take this flexibly over 12 months.

I understand that even Temasek has raised its paternity leave to about four months and maternity leave to about six months. While not gender-neutral, nonetheless, it sets a workable example for the Government to follow when it comes to adequately giving prep time for parents to play their caregiving roles. More importantly, it takes a village to raise a child and we should go beyond merely adopting a practical approach to calibrating childcare leave provisions.

In Singapore, true flexible work arrangements only began commonplace due to COVID-19. But that trend is worryingly reversing again. According to a June 2022 UOB study, almost half of Singaporeans have returned to the office full-time even though more than 80% prefer some form of flexible work arrangements. I fear that that number is much higher today.

A fellow Singaporean who is a new mother currently on maternity leave emailed me about some thoughts which resonate with me. She shared her how she was lacking the intellectual stimuli and adult social interaction that came with work. But meanwhile, her husband faced opposite problem. Back to work too soon, he kept thinking about the time he was not spending with his daughter. 

Let us push for longer gender-neutral parental leave at a policy level for the country and empower new parents with the choice to share parental responsibilities.

Prime Minister’s Office
24 February 2023

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