Sunday, 7 February 2016

Fathers could get longer paternity leave

Dads may get more paternity leave
Second week of leave looks set to be made compulsory; leave shared by couple may go beyond current one week
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 6 Feb 2016

Dads can look forward to getting more time to spend with their newborns, as Singapore strives to draw the stork to visit more often.

The second week of paternity leave, now voluntary for employers, looks set to be made compulsory.

The Government is also looking at letting working mothers share more of their four-month paid maternity leave with their husbands. Currently, they can share only one of the 16 weeks of their leave.

These possible changes to the law to help new fathers play a bigger role in parenting are being considered to help lift birth rates, Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, who oversees population matters, said yesterday.

CONFESSIONS OF A NEW PARENT Meeting a group of new parents at a dialogue late last year reminded me very much of my...
Posted by Josephine Teo on Saturday, February 6, 2016

Mrs Teo, who took over the population portfolio last October, raised these possibilities in a Facebook post titled "Confessions of a New Parent". It arose from a dialogue last year when she met more than 20 first-time parents.

The post follows the release of official figures earlier this week that show Singapore's Golden Jubilee year ended with at least 33,793 new babies, 600 more than in 2014. The figure is the highest in 13 years.

It also comes after enhancements to the Marriage and Parenthood Package were announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at last year's National Day Rally.

The Baby Bonus cash gift was raised by $2,000, and the Medisave grant for newborns was increased by $1,000 to $4,000. These changes were backdated to take effect from Jan 1 last year.

The current extended paternity leave, which was announced at the August rally as well, was backdated to January last year.

Mrs Teo noted that, every year, the number of women taking paid maternity leave is double that of men taking paternity leave.

"Dads should not be made to feel bad that they're taking paternity or childcare leave," Mrs Teo wrote.

"Union leaders have urged me to set a timeline for legislating the second week of paternity leave."

She said some new fathers have expressed concern that their bosses have indicated that taking more time off work to care for their babies - on top of their reservist duties - would affect their performance grade.

"This ought to change," she said.

Further, fewer than 5 per cent of eligible fathers now take up the shared parental leave.

But Mrs Teo is optimistic that more fathers can be coaxed if their leave period is "meaningfully extended" beyond the current one week.

She also said she has been "quite persuaded" that, should a married couple share more of the maternity leave, fathers could step in to care for the baby if mothers need to return to work.

For instance, should a working mother take 12 weeks of maternity leave, the couple can then decide how to split the last four weeks.

"If the couple so chooses and dad also works with an enlightened employer who offers voluntary paternity leave, dad can have up to six weeks with baby," she said.

Mrs Teo said feedback from mothers indicates that the change would give couples greater flexibility on how to use their leave. Instead of depriving mothers of their leave because their husbands cannot take more time off, they will have the full 16 weeks.

Children with more involved fathers tend to develop better, physically and emotionally, she said, citing four international studies.

The mother of three also gave a peek into her personal life to show how parenting ought to be a "true partnership". Recounting that her husband was "more diligent in some regards", she said he would wake up in the middle of the night to give medication to their sick child, among other things.

She said: "We want to better support today's young couples in raising families, and help daddies who want to do more for their children."

Parents back plan for more paternity leave
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 6 Feb 2016

For first-time parents like forex trader Terence Tan, the first month after the child is born is a crucial transition period during which they learn how to care for a baby.

Mr Tan told The Straits Times his and his wife's schedules revolved around their son, now 11 months old.

"Time flies and before we know it, the day is gone," the 37-year-old said. "We feed our baby every three hours, change his diapers and bathe him. The same cycle continues at night."

With careful planning of his leave and support from his boss at the firm where he was working then, Mr Tan strung together one month of leave from work.

It must be difficult for fathers who cannot get such long leave, he added, as he cheered the Government's plan to look at making it compulsory for bosses to give a second week of paid paternity leave and extending the shared parental leave scheme beyond the current one week.

Many, like IT executive Daniel Tan, are less fortunate. He works at a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) that has not opted into the scheme to give employees a second week of paternity leave.

The father of a 7½-month-old boy recalled: "In the first week, I was running on an adrenaline high. But after I went back to work, I felt I was not productive because I wanted to be with my family."

Ms Claire Ang, 30, a process engineer with a nine-month-old boy, said she had "a lot of fear" when her husband returned to work after the first week."There are times when you feel emotional after giving birth and you want support.''

She added: "My husband helped to change diapers, burp the baby, and soothe him when he cried."

Mr Desmond Choo, a unionist who is an MP for Tampines GRC, has called for progressive work practices for new parents.

Father to a four-month-old girl, he said yesterday that the review of parental perks shows the Government is serious about supporting families and helping fathers.

While the take-up rate for paternity leave is low, he noted: "Nobody thought 16 weeks of maternity leave was acceptable but now everyone thinks it is reasonable." Maternity leave was extended from 12 to 16 weeks in October 2008.

He said the Government should give bosses a timeline for implementing the two weeks of paternity leave.

But some experts cautioned against being hasty. Dr Kang Soon Hock of SIM University, said the slow take-up of paternity leave could be due to companies requiring "some period of adjustment".

Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee said SMEs face "quite a lot of strain" amid the economic restructuring. Adding on more leave "really reduces the number of man days'' at work.

He proposed exempting a father from reservist duties in the year he takes paternity leave so that there "may be some kind of balance".

Mr Chan Chong Beng of the Workforce Advancement Federation, which helps SMEs, wants special provisions to help businesses with few workers if the two-week paternity leave becomes mandatory.

"In SMEs with only 10 workers, one person on extended leave can really affect operations."

Don't treat paternity leave as more paid leave

I am amazed at the vigour with which the subject of extended paternity leave is being debated ("Extended paternity leave a burden for SMEs" by Mr Francis Cheng, and "Dads exert strong influence on kids" by Mr Tan Chin Hock , both published on Wednesday).

It begs the question: Will extended paternity leave make any difference to the development of a child?

I am a father of three, all born in the 1980s.

During that time, the organisation which I worked for granted me three days' paternity leave.

To me, it was useful and sufficient. I view paternity leave as time to be used in doing last-minute necessary errands, preparing for the discharge of mother and baby from hospital, helping the mother to settle into her new role, and finalising a routine, given the addition of another member to the family.

It cannot be denied that fathers have a great influence on the development of their children, but to think that this can be achieved through extended paternity leave is a myth.

The emotional, psychological, mental and behavioural development of a child is a long-term process, especially crucial during his growing-up years. This is the time when parental engagement will help to shape character, outlook, attitude and values.

Let us be mindful that quality rather than quantity of time matters more.

A baby is too young to make sense of his surroundings, let alone be able to engage with his father, even with extended paternity leave.

So, while extended paternity leave is a welcome gesture, it must be granted for the right reason, and not as additional paid leave.

Lawrence Loh Kiah Muan
ST Forum, 12 Feb 2016

40% of SME staff take paternity leave
Rising costs, labour shortage make it harder for eligible men to take a week's leave: Asme
By Alexis Ong, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2016

While experts say paternity leave can enhance the father-child bond and a child's development, most workers at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) find it hard to take such leave.

Only an estimated 40 per cent of eligible male employees in SMEs use the one-week paternity leave, said Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (Asme).

Member companies face escalating costs and manpower constraints, he told The Straits Times, noting that companies also have to release NSmen for two or three weeks a year for in-camp training.

Assuming three weeks each of annual leave and in-camp training, and deducting public holidays, many male employees work only around 10 months a year, he added.

He said: "It is in SMEs that often members of the workforce are given extra flexibility and time to attend to private, urgent or family matters."

What may be more important now, he said, is ensuring that costs do not rise, which could result in a rise in unemployment.

The extension of compulsory paternity leave from one to two weeks should be considered only after next year, he added.

Legislation was passed in January 2013 so that men with children born after May 1, 2013, could take a week of government-paid paternity leave. This was enhanced in August last year, when employers were encouraged to give an extra week voluntarily to men with babies born after Jan 1 last year.

While the take-up rate for paternity leave is still modest, Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said in Parliament in January that the number of fathers taking a full week of paternity leave more than doubled between 2013 and January this year.

Experts said paternity leave can result in long-term benefits.

Ms Vicky Ho, head of research and development at charity Focus on the Family, said: "A dad is the best person to affirm a boy's masculinity and teach him how to channel his strength in positive ways.

"A father's presence also gives a daughter the assurance of safety."

An involved father lowers the chances of sons growing up to be violent, and results in daughters having healthier relationships with the opposite gender, she added.

Dr Sanveen Kang-Sadhnani, principal clinical psychologist and centre manager at Thomson Paediatric Centre, said there was insufficient research to determine the ideal length of paternity leave.

But she noted a study in the United States found that fathers who took leave of at least two weeks had higher parenting satisfaction and were more likely to be involved actively in their child's care nine months after birth.This leads to better developmental outcomes for the kids.

Experts recommend that fathers bond through baby massages, music and storytelling.

Some fathers wish for more than a week of paternity leave.

Mr Ben Lim, 36, a financial services provider, works at a firm that does not offer the extra week of paternity leave. But it was supportive of him taking time to be with his family. When his son, Ezra, was born three months ago, he took a week of his own annual leave to add to one week of paternity leave.

Ezra had jaundice and gastro-intestinal problems, and often had to be taken for hospital check-ups, sometimes even staying overnight.

Mr Lim's wife, Diane, 29, said: "That was my first time being almost completely dependent on my husband in the eight years we've been together."

She added: "It was also really precious to witness that budding father-son bond."

33,793 Singaporean babies born in SG50

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