From July this year, the Public Service will provide an additional 4 weeks of unpaid infant care leave per parent, to be taken within the child’s first year. 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 6 months, between them.
This comes under a three-year pilot scheme announced by Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo in Parliament last Thursday (2 Mar).
The pilot comes to enhance recent leave policies where both working parents together can enjoy 20 weeks of paid leave in the first year after their child is born, and 2 weeks of unpaid leave.
Ms Teo said, “Most parents feel more confident when their babies are about 6 months or 26-weeks old,” before placing him in an infant-care centre or other alternatives to look after their child.
For such parents, there could be a caregiving gap of around 4 weeks, hence the pilot was created.
The leave provision is gender-neutral; both male and female public officers are eligible to apply. But couples will have to weigh the cost of one working spouse going a month without drawing a salary because the leave is unpaid.
And some face pressures at work that prevent them from taking more parental leave; Ms Teo pointed out that for some even paid leave is not fully utilised.
Further paid leave does not benefit these parents, instead, parents want better assurance of workplace support, that they can take all their parental leave provisions if they need them.
“This is why we have decided that the main objectives of the pilot in the Public Service are to test the general viability of longer parental leave, and to require all supervisors to facilitate such leave,” Ms Teo said.
Under this pilot, supervisors in the public sector, which includes ministries and statutory boards, will no longer be able to say ‘maybe yes, maybe no’. 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.
The public sector pilot will also be for a longer period of three years so that the impact of longer parental leave in a variety of work settings can be adequately tested. These experiences will be useful in assessing whether a nation-wide rollout is practicable in future, Ms Teo said.
“But I’d like to add a word of caution here – we should not under-estimate the challenges of such a move. As it is, some employers face great difficulty in accommodating staff with childcare needs. Some parents also tell of the push back they experience from co workers. Extending parental leave can unwittingly be an added source of tension at the workplace.”
Therefore, Ms Teo said, “I hope members will help to rally support for the pilot and give us suggestions on how we can improve its chances of success.” She added she hope some private sector companies will also join in to lead the way.
What employees want increasingly is flexibility, Ms Teo said, thanking Mr Desmond Choo for his suggestions on how technology can be an enabler for this.
She also said that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has a useful way of thinking about flexible work arrangements (FWAs) – flexi-time, flexi-place, flexi-load. The data shows that two in three employees worked in companies that provided at least one form of flexible work arrangements.
“Survey last year revealed that 8 in 10 married respondents cited having FWAs as an important consideration when deciding which company to join.” said Ms Teo said and added that the Government will continue to support them through various resources, including MOM’s Work-Life Grant, which provides up to $160,000 to help companies implement FWAs.
MOM is studying ways to encourage more companies to come on board and will share more details later in the year, Ms Teo said.
More recently, the Tripartite partners have published an advisory which guides companies through the process of introducing FWAs in workplaces.