SINGAPORE: More unpaid infant care leave will be offered to parents working in the public sector from July this year, to address a "caregiving gap" for some, revealed Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Josephine Teo on Thursday (Mar 2).
Under a three-year pilot, public sector officers and their spouses will get an additional four weeks of unpaid infant care leave per parent. This brings the total amount of guaranteed parental leave to six months or 26 weeks per couple, up from 22 weeks.
Speaking during the Committee of Supply debates in Parliament, Mrs Teo said: “This means that as long as one parent is working in the public service, the couple can have up to 26 weeks of leave, or six months, between them."
Currently, working parents can together enjoy 20 weeks of paid leave after their child is born, and two weeks of unpaid leave. These consist of 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, two weeks of paid paternity leave, a week of paid childcare leave per parent and a week of unpaid infant care leave per parent.
However, she said there is a potential “caregiving gap” because while infant care centres are able to take in babies from two months old, most parents feel more confident to leave their children in these centres when they are six months old. For these parents, there could then be a gap of around four weeks, Mrs Teo noted.
She said the public sector will take the lead to close the caregiving gap with the additional four weeks of unpaid infant care leave per parent. It is to be taken within the child's first year.
MORE PAID LEAVE NOT NECESSARILY A BENEFIT
As to why the additional leave is unpaid, Mrs Teo said the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) observed that even with paid parental leave, some parents have not been using them in full.
“Some do not need all the leave provided; others face pressures at work that prevent them from taking more parental leave. Further paid leave does not benefit these parents,” she said. “Instead, parents want better assurance of workplace support, that they can take all their parental leave provisions if they need them.”
This is why the main objectives of the pilot are to test the general viability of longer parental leave, and to require all supervisors to facilitate such leave. Under this pilot, Mrs Teo said, supervisors in the public sector, which includes ministries and statutory boards, will no longer be able to say “maybe yes, maybe no” when employees apply for parental leave.
"The leave provision is gender neutral; both male and female public officers are eligible to apply. 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,” she said.
The length of the pilot is so the NPTD can adequately test the impact of longer parental leave in a variety of work settings, and the experiences will be useful in assessing whether a nationwide rollout is possible in the future, she added.
MOVE MAY ADD TO WORKPLACE TENSIONS
Mrs Teo also said the challenges of such a move should not be underestimated. Already, some employers face great difficulty in accommodating staff with childcare needs, while some parents also share of the pushback they experience from co-workers. Extending parental leave can unwittingly be an added source of tension at the workplace, she said.
She called on members in Parliament to help rally support for the pilot and give suggestions to improve the initiative’s chances of success.
“Needless to say, while we are piloting this measure in public sector only, we hope some private sector companies will also join in to lead the way,” Mrs Teo said.