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Civil Service to pilot scheme for more unpaid infant-care leave

SINGAPORE — Public servants will get an additional four weeks of unpaid infant-care leave per parent starting July this year, as part of a three-year pilot to test the viability of longer parental leave, Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Josephine Teo told the House on Thursday (March 2).

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SINGAPORE — Public servants will get an additional four weeks of unpaid infant-care leave per parent starting July this year, as part of a three-year pilot to test the viability of longer parental leave, Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Josephine Teo told the House on Thursday (March 2).

With this additional leave, which must be used within a child’s first year, employees in the Public Service and their spouses will be guaranteed six months of parental leave as a couple.

The extra leave is one of three measures to give young couples a boost as they embark on their parenthood journey, said Mrs Teo during the Committee of Supply (COS) debate for the PMO, as the nation’s Total Fertility Rate fell to 1.2 last year from 1.24 a year ago.

Working parents, both in the public and private sectors, currently enjoy a total of 20 weeks of paid leave in the first year after the birth of their child. This comprises 16 weeks’ maternity leave, two weeks’ paternity leave, and one week each of paid childcare leave and unpaid infant-care leave per parent. Both parents enjoy two weeks of unpaid leave in total.

Noting that most parents prefer to leave their babies at infant-care centres after the six-month mark, Mrs Teo said there is presently a care-giving gap of four weeks. “We want to provide better workplace support for these parents, while balancing the need for businesses to adjust to the recent parental leave enhancements. Therefore, the public sector will take the lead to pilot a scheme to close the potential care-giving gap,” said Mrs Teo, who oversees the National Population and Talent Division.

The additional leave provision will be gender-neutral, she said, adding: “As long as they have been given reasonable notice, supervisors will have to accede to all applications for such parental leave and make the necessary work adjustments.”

The longer pilot duration for the additional parental leave is to allow for the impact of such a move in a variety of work settings to be tested, so as to help in assessing “whether a nation-wide rollout is practicable in future”, Mrs Teo said. Referring to the unpaid nature of the additional leave, she noted that even with the current paid parental leave, some parents do not fully make use of their entitlement.

“Further paid leave does not benefit these parents. Instead, they want better assurance of workplace support, that they can take all their parental leave provisions if they need them,” she added.

Mrs Teo also announced on Thursday that couples will be given help to get their own place, and infant-care places will be expanded to more than 8,000 by 2020. Details of these two measures will be announced by the National Development, and Social and Family Development ministries during their respective COS debates.

Separately, Mrs Teo told the House that NTUC’s Seed Institute, which trains early childhood educators, will be collaborating with healthcare professionals from KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital to launch an infant-care training course for domestic helpers. The course, which will offer 100 training places, will teach domestic helpers how to care for infants.

Thursday’s debate saw 10 Members of Parliament (MPs) speaking on the population issue. Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) suggested a more progressive structure for childcare leave, which he called the  “6-4-2” system — six days of childcare leave until the child turns six, four days from seven to nine years old, and two days from 10 to 12 years old. 

Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) spoke about the need for a mindset shift when it comes to supporting young parents — from “pumping endless cash incentives” to accepting that “parents have a special responsibility and should be supported”. 

Mrs Teo also provided the House with an update on Singapore’s population figures. Reiterating that the  population is ageing, she said that the Old-Age Support Ratio — the ratio of working-age citizens to citizens aged above 65 — “will decline from five today to two in 2030”. 

The total fertility rate fell to 1.20 last year from 1.24 a year before, while citizen marriages rose from 2015 to hit 23,873 last year. Citizen births fell to 33,161, but Mrs Teo noted that the figure was still better than the 10-year average of 32,000 babies.

 

CORRECTION: In an earlier version, we reported that working parents currently enjoy 16 weeks’ maternity leave, two weeks’ paternity leave and one week each of paid childcare and infant-care leave per parent, and that both parents also enjoy two weeks of unpaid leave each. This is inaccurate. Working parents enjoy one week of paid childcare and one week of unpaid infant-care leave per parent. Both parents enjoy two weeks of unpaid leave in total. We apologise for the error.

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