The government will be piloting a new scheme to allow public servants to have an extra four weeks of unpaid childcare leave, to be taken in the first year of the child’s birth.

This tops up the total leave between parents to 26 weeks if one of the parents is a public servant.

Currently, parents enjoy 16 weeks paid maternity leave, two weeks of paid paternity leave, one week of paid childcare leave per parent, and one week of unpaid infant-care leave per parent.

Needless to say, online discussions were mixed with two camps of thoughts those who felt this was not really an incentive and want more VS those who groan as they want to tell the government to stop raising incentives for parents already.

The first “this is not enough!” camp:

Daddies and Mommies felt this reeked of half-heartedness. “Why not make it paid and compulsory across the public and private sector?”

By making it “optional” to take this unpaid leave means asking the parent to literally have to go to his supervisor/boss, open his mouth and ask “can I apply for the extra 4 weeks unpaid leave?”. One can imagine the supervisors’ reluctance and the co-workers passing judgement.

You give the supervisors and co-workers a chance to guilt-trip, and even “hint” that maybe they should not take it “or else…”. Even if this is at the expense of the parent.

Which brings me to my next point.

The “start-up” costs of having children are high. Non-subsidised parents could find themselves forking out close to $10,000 for delivery expenses (in the event of minor complications, and this is without NICU). The early childhood is also expensive. You see a paediatrician instead of a GP when your baby is ill, that is specialist rates. Stage 1 and Stage 2 formula milk also costs more. Confinement costs money. Baby gear also costs money, even if you buy second-hand. Not all parents can afford to give up 1 month of pay, especially now with all living expenses going up (water, gas etc).

Onlookers (i.e. Not parents of young children) think that the currently leave scheme is generous. “Up to 26 months shared between the two parents”.

 However, you take away the 16 weeks maternity leave which, as all mothers will attest, is just about sufficient for her to recover and get back to health (imagine the older generations who went back after 2 months while their C-Sect wounds were still not completely healed), and 2 weeks is for paternity leave Which is actually not enough. Not when the wife is still in confinement and not if we want to promote a more involved fatherhood. Ideally, the Papas should be given 40 Days too (to commensurate with the typical confinement period), so they can help out during confinement and be hands-on fathers.

Early childhood experts also recommend and promote bonding between child and parents in the first 6 months, even up to two years if you can afford it. 26 weeks is, therefore, inadequate, worse when you are asking the parents to a) be penalised when they thick-skin and ask for it, and b) when it will hurt their already near-empty piggy bank.

The “enough already lah!” camp:

Business owners and private sector employers are surely wondering if the government will eventually apply this benefit to the private sector.

As it was, when maternity leave was first raised to four months in 2008, private businesses, especially SMEs expressed the strain on their businesses, even when the government paid for 8 weeks of the maternity. To hire part-timers to hurt their productivity while you waited 4 long months for the worker to return from maternity.

Co-workers too will also groan at the thought of having to wait four months, and now maybe another one month for the colleague to return back to work while they drown in the extra workload. Of course, they will say “enough already”.

And women working in the private sector will worry if the question “are you planning to have children in the near future?” will pop up during interviews and they may be sidestepped for the job if they reply affirmatively.

Running out of ideas?

 

Now we wonder if the NPTD has run of out fresh ideas to raise Singapore’s abysmal Total Fertility Rate. What is wanting from them is more concrete ideas on getting employers and co-workers to understand that it takes both hands to clap when it comes to promoting a family-friendly workplace.Do employers understand that they need to do their part to support this National Service that parents are doing?

How can the government ensure that employers do not end up (sneakily and subtly) choose not to hire married young women because they are perceived to be a liability?

How do you make the singles and childless feel less penalised for not having young children to “enjoy” all these leave benefits (which parents will attest actually do not mean any rest at all)?

These are questions that need to be answered. Introducing additional leave schemes, especially those that are “optional” and out of the parent’s own pocket like this, may do little to change the low fertility rate in Singapore and leaves a bad taste in the mouth instead.

And no, couples do not need much space to make babies.

We need much respect and understanding.