SINGAPORE: Some Members of Parliament called for greater support for working mothers, including legislating flexible work arrangements and a review of proposed tax relief caps, as the debate over Singapore's 2016 Budget entered its second day on Tuesday (Apr 5).
Mr Christopher de Souza, MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, suggested that the Government consider giving new mothers returning to the workforce after maternity leave a legislated right to an additional eight weeks of flexible work arrangements, or eight weeks of no-pay leave.
This followed an earlier suggestion made by MP Desmond Choo for the additional eight weeks of flexible work arrangements to be made a legislated right for working mothers.
“This will give mothers more time at work to bond with their newborn, and would also allow them breastfeed for at least six months,” said Mr De Souza, noting that the six-month period is recommended by the World Health Organization.
MORE FLEXIBLE WORK OPTIONS FOR MUMS?
The three-term MP also said that besides reducing workload, or the time spent at work, flexibility can be applied in terms of working time, such as in allowing for staggered hours and shorter work weeks, or in work location, by allowing working mothers to tele-commute.
In her parliamentary debut, Nominated Member of Parliament K Thanaletchimi echoed the view that women should be given stronger support to be able to pursue “different definitions of success”.
The NTUC Central Committee member said that women should not be fearful of “sacrificing their careers” for a family if they are given the right to request for flexible work arrangements.
And to better support women workers – which Ms Thanaletchimi counted in the “vulnerable group” along with low-wage workers and mid-career individuals who take on new jobs - she said that the Workforce Development Agency’s Professional Conversion Programme can be strengthened to ensure close collaboration among all the stakeholders.
MP for MacPherson SMC Tin Pei Ling, who also backed the idea of flexible work options, reiterated her suggestion for an online directory to help working mothers find infant care and childcare.
She said that such a directory can "organise and tap on informal source of labour" like nannys and trained part-time caregivers within the community, to "supplement infant care and childcare centres".
A TAXING ISSUE
Ms Tin, along with MPs Joan Pereira and Lee Bee Wah, also called for a rethink of the cap of S$80,000 on personal income tax reliefs.
Ms Pereira, who is MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, called for the cap to be lifted for working mothers who are widowed or divorced, “as they usually face more challenges such as raising families on their own”.
On the same topic, MPs Lee Bee Wah and Tin Pei Ling said the cap appears to contradict Government efforts to encourage procreation.
“One such mother said it will increase her tax burden by 20 per cent. She has three children and was considering a fourth. But with this change, she no longer feels the same incentive and support from the Government to do so. She is already feeling stressed from juggling work, kids and parents, and reconsidering quitting the workforce to focus on her family,” said Ms Lee, the MP for Nee Soon GRC.
“I know the cap is expected to net S$100 million a year in revenue, but I certainly hope it will not turn out 'penny wise pound foolish', by driving high-income mothers away from the workforce or reducing the number of children they will add to the future workforce.”
Ms Tin said that the proposed cap, which "for some reason almost only hits working mothers, specifically those from mid-management and higher", could send a negative signal to working women considering to have children.
The new rule, which was introduced in Budget 2016, will take effect from the Year of Assessment 2018. The change most affects working mothers with higher incomes because of the tax reliefs they get from the Working Mother’s Child Relief.