Wednesday 25 July 2012

NTUC recommends 6 months of paid maternity leave

By Joanne Chan, Channel NewsAsia, 22 Jul 2012

Another priority for the NTUC is promoting better work-life balance for mothers.

In response to calls by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) for ideas to boost Singapore's falling fertility rate, the labour movement is recommending that working mums be given six months of paid maternity leave, with another optional six months of unpaid leave.

"It's important for us to encourage employers to embrace better work-life (balance). Particularly after delivery, there are certain stresses for women," said NTUC President Diana Chia.

"Many women, because of this difficulty, leave their job to take care of their family. And to get them back to work is also an enormous task. So we're actually looking at how we can phase in this," she added.

"It's good, this will encourage more women to have babies, but it depends on the company. (For) small companies, I don't think they can afford to give six months of maternity leave followed by no pay leave," said one member of the public.

"The main thing is (whether) the employer accepts these rules. Some employers won't allow their employees to take a long break of one year because they have to look for part-time manpower," said another.

SNEF against extending maternity leave, proposes other incentives
By Hetty Musfirah, Channel NewsAsia, 24 Jul 2012

The Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) said legislating more and different types of leave will add to labour costs and have other unintended negative effects.

It said this in a statement on the government's review of marriage and parenthood measures to boost the low total fertility rate in Singapore.

Just last week, the Labour Movement had among others, recommended that working mums be given six months of paid maternity leave with another optional six months of unpaid leave.

But SNEF feels the current four months leave is already generous, compared to regional countries and economic competitors.

It said longer maternity leave can result in a loss of productivity.

Finding and training replacements, getting employees to share workloads, and incurring additional costs from overtime are some of the challenges faced by employers, particularly SMEs.

Some companies may also choose to hire men or younger women to avoid the higher employment costs.

SNEF said companies can be given better support to create family-friendly workplaces.

More can be done to better integrate the current four months leave into a company's work practices.

One suggestion is to have "baby bonus for bosses", where tax incentives are given to employers, whose employees go on maternity leave.

The savings go to help the employer cultivate a more work-life friendly workplace for all employees.

SNEF feels that parental and paternity leave of short durations should also be left to companies to manage flexibly.

So companies can be given financial incentives to provide paternity leave, by reimbursing them for the direct and related costs.

SNEF said it also strongly supports part-time employment and flexible work arrangements.

SNEF is also proposing financial incentives such as special employment credits for working mothers.

There can also be incentives for women to continue working after the maternity leave benefit such as a workfare bonus plus scheme for working mothers.

SNEF is also proposing that a list of "best employers for working mothers" in Singapore be developed to help CEOs focus attention on this important issue.

SNEF said that overall, more babies must be accompanied by more women rejoining the workforce after maternity leave, and that this is only possible when employers continue to create jobs and enhance the employment benefits and prospects for women, especially mothers.

Longer maternity leave not the best solution: Experts
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2012

LONGER maternity leave might not necessarily benefit working mothers or result in more babies, experts told The Straits Times yesterday.

Their responses came in the wake of a National Trades Union Congress proposal released last week, which set out ideas on encouraging Singaporeans to procreate amid a declining national fertility rate.

The proposal included a suggestion to extend paid maternity leave to six months instead of the current four, with an option for a further six months' unpaid leave.

Employers, human resources experts and women's organisations said such a measure would at best be a short-term fix for working mothers.

Ms Corinna Lim, executive director of the Association of Women for Action and Research, said: 'What people really need is a longer-term solution where they can have flexi-work hours, and more childcare leave days for both parents.

'This will give them more flexibility to take care of their children in the long run.'

Sociologist Paulin Straughan, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore, noted that maternity leave was a time for the mother to recuperate and recover from childbirth, and to let the body heal. 'It should not be seen as solely for child care, which is a longer-term issue,' she said.

She added: 'The extension might mean a lot to those who have already decided to have children, but it's not going to be the tipping point in the decisions of most.'

Mrs Laura Hwang, president of the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations, said: 'It may still be daunting to have more children, as the commitment goes well beyond the first six months. Many women will not find it acceptable to take time away for six months and risk their career opportunities.'

The fertility rate issue is a very complex one, said Singapore Human Resources Institute executive director David Ang. It is also very personal, he said, noting: 'Given that the existing provisions have not been working, I would question whether extending maternity leave really is the way to go.'

He added that possible concerns for both pregnant women and their employers include additional costs incurred by employers, potential discrimination against female employees, and problems in making the transition back to working life.

Ms Lim said the suggested extension would have minimal impact on the decision to have children and women might end up with the shorter end of the stick. 'All other things being equal, the employer might be tempted to choose the man over the woman when hiring,' she said.

Mr Josh Goh, assistant director of human resources consultancy The GMP Group, agreed the problem of workplace discrimination might worsen.

'For example, employers might ask for information about whether the employee is going to start a family soon,' he said.

Mr Chan Chong Beng, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said adapting to such a policy might initially be challenging for smaller firms, which are less structured than large corporations and might have problems hiring temporary staff.

'SMEs that penalise women for this will have problems in the long run with retaining employees, and their reputations will also suffer,' he said.

Assistant manager Koh Mui Leng, 30, who is three months pregnant with her first child, said extending maternity leave might threaten a woman's career prospects.

'More comprehensive support for working mothers from society in general is still necessary - for example, more childcare support, flexible work arrangements as well as paternity leave,' she said.

'I'm still trying to work out a long-term childcare solution - I enjoy my job very much and I don't want to be forced to make the decision to stop working or extend my leave because of childcare issues,' she added.

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