NTUC’s Labour Members of Parliament (LMPs) have called for stronger support for working parents and caregivers.
They made their calls during the debate of the second session of the 14th parliament on 18 September 2023 while supporting the Child Development Co-Savings (Amendment) Bill.
While they lauded the amendments as progressive, encouraging greater shared parental responsibility when starting a family, they felt that more could be done to help workers with existing caregiving responsibilities or those looking to start their own families.
NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Melvin Yong proposed for the Government to conduct a study to determine if there is a correlation between the quality of work-life balance and choosing to start a family.
He suggested that the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) conduct a study examining companies that offer employees the best work-life balance to establish this association.
“The outcome of the study can inform agencies with insights into certain work practices that need to be adopted, or perhaps even legislated, to provide Singaporeans with a more conducive work environment to start a family,” he said.
He also urged MSF to consider allowing employers to claim benefits if they provide good flexible work arrangements to staff with children and for the ministry to consider providing adoptive and foster parents with a greater differentiation in benefits under the Child Development Co-Savings Act.
He said: “Adoptive and foster parents often have to deal with a myriad of problems that are more complicated than a traditional family setting. We should, therefore, provide them with more support, such as more Government-Paid Paternity Leave and Unpaid Infant Care Leave.”
NTUC Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit Director Jean See called for more to be done at three levels – national, organisational and employee – to advance gender equality and empathy for working caregivers.
At the national level, she proposed that the ministry considers providing paid paternity leave for the full four weeks, or 28 days, of lost income to self-employed fathers of newborn children.
The Labour Nominated MP shared that those working as private hire car drivers or hawkers must often dip into their savings to cover rent, other expenses, and lost income.
Ms See hoped that the Government could consider helping companies to create work environments supportive of caregivers at the organisational level.
She said: “Employees’ expectations of work and work-life balance have changed. Staffing is leaner, families are smaller. Many individuals are doing more. They take on multiple responsibilities at work and juggle various caregiving roles at home … Bosses must, therefore, lead with new lenses. They must also evolve structures, policies, and processes in response to changing aspirations.”
At the employee level, Ms See hoped the Government could consider expanding support to cater to caregiving needs, such as caregiving leave.
“Organisations that establish flexible work and family-supportive policies would welcome more recognition and support. These encourage their employees who are caregivers to stay on in the workforce,” she said.
NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Desmond Choo proposed ways the Government could improve the enhanced GPPL and UICL.
With the GPPL being doubled from two to four weeks for fathers of Singaporean children born from 1 January 2024 onwards, he hoped that the Government could work closely with trade associations, chambers, and the Labour Movement to spread awareness of the enhancement.
“Many fathers would be assured if their management comes out strongly to support them in taking leave to care for their newborn. Ensuring that eligible fathers are well-informed of the GPPL will enable them to make optimal use of these benefits,” he explained.
With the UICL being enhanced by an additional six days per parent per year for children under two, Mr Choo suggested that the flexibility of UICL usage also be improved, along with the number of UICL days based on the number of children the parents have.
He said: “Rather than mandating that employees take the entire entitlement of the proposed 12 days in a single year, it would be beneficial to allow parents to use UICL flexibly during the child's first two years.
He also proposed that the number of UICL days can be enhanced according to the number of children parents have, as families with multiple young children will have different caregiving needs.
“Tailoring UICL allowances accordingly would be a thoughtful step,” he said.
Beyond fine-tuning the GPPL and UICL, Mr Choo believes that leave enhancements are insufficient and that workplace support to support fathers’ involvement in childcare is just as important.
He added that besides parents, the Government must not forget about workers who are single but who are similarly facing caregiving responsibilities such as caring for elderly parents.
NTUC Women and Family Unit Director Yeo Wan Ling pushed for more enforceable and sustainable policies around flexible work arrangements, sharing that this would go beyond helping new parents but families with other caregiving duties.
She said: “It is not only new parents who may be feeling the heat of their familial duties - parents with older kids have to face rigorous demands in ensuring they cope well with their educational journey; there are parents who shoulder a unique burden in raising children with special needs or other conditions that require more than a few weeks of allowances; and there are caregivers to elderly parents that are challenged with the intricate juggling of work and family.”
She added that beyond Government efforts, employers must play a part in encouraging working fathers to adopt initiatives such as paid leave and flexible work arrangements to tend to their families.
Ms Yeo said that if employees feel that their jobs “cannibalise” their commitments to their families in the long run, employees will not stay motivated for long.
“Prioritising family commitments over work responsibilities should be practised free of judgement and punishment for parents and caregivers alike,” she said.