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Retrenched parents and those of stillborn babies to benefit from government-paid leave, benefits

Retrenched parents and those of stillborn babies to benefit from government-paid leave, benefits

File photo of an infant (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: Working parents of stillborn babies will qualify for government-paid benefits, including maternity and paternity leave, after amendments to the Child Development Co-Savings Act were passed in Parliament on Monday (Aug 2).

This applies to parents whose stillborn child would have been a Singaporean. 

“Parents of stillborn children need to recover physically and emotionally, and this move can help them in this difficult journey," said Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling.

Stillborn or deceased children will also count towards the number of children a mother has had, which will determine her eligibility for benefits.

“Depending on whether they are entitled to leave or benefits schemes, including them in the child order determination will allow more employers and working mothers to receive a higher quantum of reimbursement or payment,” said Ms Sun, who is also Minister of State for Education.

“We hope that this will go some way to help mothers, and also encourage employers to be more supportive of working mothers with more children.”

This is among seven amendments to the Act. 

Under the changes, parents who are retrenched and have to give up their remaining parental leave will have the benefits paid out to them.

NEW SCHEMES FOR WORKING FATHERS AND ADOPTIVE MOTHERS

Two new schemes will be introduced for some working fathers and adoptive mothers who previously did not qualify for paternity leave or adoption leave due to their employment arrangements.

For instance, they could be on multiple short-term contracts or had their contracts expire shortly before the birth or adoption of their child. 

Currently, mothers on short-term contracts and who are not eligible for maternity leave can receive cash benefits instead. With the amendments, this benefit will be extended to working fathers and adoptive mothers.

This is provided that the parent has worked as an employee or self-employed person, or both, for at least 90 days in the year immediately before the child’s birth or eligibility date for an adopted child.

Parents who have worked for longer periods will receive higher benefits.

"We estimate that around 500 working fathers and adoptive mothers will benefit," said Ms Sun. "Though this number is small, it remains important to ensure that these parents are supported in raising their children."

DISQUALIFYING FATHERS FROM LEAVE FOR CHILDREN BORN FROM EXTRAMARITAL AFFAIRS

Fathers will not be able to use paid childcare leave and unpaid infant care leave under the Act for children born from extramarital affairs.

However, mothers will still be entitled to paid childcare and unpaid infant care leave “to avoid unduly compromising a child’s well-being”, as mothers are usually the main caregivers, said Ms Sun.

The father can become eligible for childcare leave for that child if the birth parents later marry.

This comes after the ministry found that some parents consume childcare leave and unpaid infant care leave for children of extramarital affairs.

“This was not the policy intent. Our marriage and parenthood policies are intended to safeguard the family institution and not to condone extramarital affairs,” said Ms Sun.

READ: Reporting births, deaths and still births to be compulsory after Bill passed in Parliament

READ: 26 weeks of paid parental leave? That’s what some employees in Singapore get

SINGLE UNWED PARENTS AND STILLBORN CHILDREN

During the debate on the proposed amendments, several Members of Parliament called on the Government to provide greater support for single parents.

MP Desmond Choo (PAP-Tampines) noted that single mothers are left out of the Baby Bonus Scheme, which provides a cash entitlement of S$8,000 for the first and second child. Those in the workforce are also not eligible for parenthood tax rebates and the Working Mothers Child Relief.

“Although extending these benefits to single mothers may seemingly deviate from the traditional definition of a family unit, we must remember the majority of single mothers are in their position due not to reasons within their control,” said Mr Choo, adding that Singapore must be “child-centric”.

MP Carrie Tan (PAP-Nee Soon) expressed disappointment that “the latest amendments continue to disadvantage children born to unwed parents” and called for unwed parents to be eligible for the Baby Bonus.

She said that if the Government’s intention was to discourage extramarital affairs, it should better enforce child support payments or use DNA tests to identify and hold biological parents accountable.

In cases where the biological father cares for the child, accountability should be “equally applied” to the missing mother, with unwed fathers given paternity leave benefits to care for their children, she added.

MP Jamus Lim (WP-Sengkang) called for a longer leave period for mothers of stillborn children and for compassionate leave to be extended to fathers of stillborn children.

“There is no difference between the physiological trauma by a mother of a healthy versus stillborn child. Consequently, I believe that we should not exempt the latter from any of the benefits of rest and recovery that the government-mandated maternity leave confers,” he said.

In response, Ms Sun said that all government benefits that support the caregiving, growth and development of children have been “equalised” over the years. 

These include subsidies in healthcare, education, childcare and infant care, the MediSave Grant for Newborns, MediShield Life coverage from birth and the Foreign Domestic Levy Concession.

“For other benefits such as the Baby Bonus cash gift and parenthood-related tax benefits, these continue to be targeted to encourage parenthood within marriage,” she said.

READ: Grit and a whole lot of love: When single fathers rise to the challenge

READ: The Big Read: Amid societal changes, how will the link between family formation and housing policies evolve?

PATERNITY LEAVE

Other MPs urged the Government to provide more benefits for fathers.

MP Louis Ng (PAP-Nee Soon) called for more paternity leave to allow fathers to have more time with their children and to “fight the gender stereotype”.

“What message do we send out when we give mothers 16 weeks of maternity leave and fathers two weeks of paternity leave?”

Citing a study, Mr Ng added that fathers who take two weeks of paternity leave or longer deal with lower family conflict, maternal depression and mothers’ parenting aggravation. It is also “positively related” to marital satisfaction and father-child closeness.

Children whose fathers took paternity leave also have fewer behavioural problems, he said as he suggested increasing paternity leave in phases.

The Government should do more to “even out the weight of parenting between couples”, said MP Yeo Wan Ling (PAP-Pasir Ris-Punggol).

Noting the low take-up rates of paternity leave, especially in the private sector, Ms Yeo said that this is likely due to “workplace cultures embedded in our society”.

Fathers might feel “implicitly penalised” for taking time off to care for their children. “Perhaps some employers think that this could be rightfully and naturally left to their spouses, or even see the usage of paternity leave as unnecessary or worse still, opportunistic.”

She urged the Government to incentivise employers, such as expanding the Working Mother’s Child Relief and Grandparent Caregiver Relief to include working fathers.

Ms Sun said that despite paternity leave enhancements over the years, “there is still some way to go”.

“I encourage more fathers to take their leave, but in order for fathers to do so, mindsets will have to shift … One key contributor is whether fathers feel supported in the workplace, and I encourage employers to implement more family-friendly practices like flexible working arrangements,” she said.

READ: At least 1 in 10 women experience miscarriage, according to new studies

MISCARRIAGE LEAVE

Mr Ng asked if the Ministry for Social and Family Development would consider providing leave for mothers who miscarry before the 28th week of pregnancy.

“While a stillborn child is defined as a child who is birthed after 28th weeks of pregnancy, the event is no less traumatic for parents where a mother miscarries in the 27th week of pregnancy,” he said, adding that these mothers are eligible for sick leave, but not maternity leave.

He also asked if the ministry would provide partial reimbursement to employers who provide leave benefits to parents where the mother miscarries before the 28th week of pregnancy.

Currently, working mothers who need to recover from a miscarriage are given medical leave, said Ms Sun. They may also use their annual leave and some companies may offer compassionate leave.

She also noted that under the new Registration of Births and Deaths Act, the definition of a stillborn child has changed to one delivered after the 22nd week of pregnancy. The Child Development Co-Savings Act will take on this interpretation when the new Registration of Births and Deaths Act comes into effect.

Source: CNA/cc(gs)

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