POLL: Maternity leave not a solution to raising fertility rate
Although NTUC’s latest proposal aims to bring up our fertility rate, their idea still has parents -- and their employers -- asking “Why?” Is our local labour movement barking up the wrong tree? We ask a few parents, including Sher-li Torrey, founder of [email protected], for their opinions. And we'd like to hear from you too; take our survey below and have your say!
In a bid for ideas on raising Singapore’s fertility rate, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) pitched its recommendation offering working mothers 6 months paid maternity leave and an additional 6 months of optional unpaid leave.
While the proposal is well-intentioned, parents are concerned that additional leave is not going to help all that much, and it may even be a step towards the wrong direction. Susan Koh, marketing manager and mother of 1, says, “I am happy with the (current arrangement of) 4 months maternity leave, (but) what would be more practical is having more financial support in raising a child, as the costs associated with having a child is increasing.”
Isaiah Kuan, an administrator and father of 2, agrees. “I don’t think just increasing the period of maternity leave will help much,” he said. “In fact, with 6 months, most women would be more concerned about their work than having babies.”
With rising household expenses, particularly in preschool education as presented earlier by the Lien Foundation, handling family finances still remain a primary concern for parents, as Susan and Isaiah share. Susan comments, “For most young parents who are caught in the sandwich generation where they have to take care of our children and our aging parents, it can be a strain on finances.”
Isaiah says, “I feel the (first and) main (consideration) is still monetary concerns. How about lower child care fees, maybe even free early child education instead? Of course, paternity leave should (also be) re-considered; 3 days is just not enough at all, and it’s not even mandatory!”
Since NTUC’s proposal was publicised, many mothers have voiced their disagreement, so shares Sher-li Torrey, mother of 2 and founder of [email protected], a community set up to help mothers seek employment or advance their careers whilst managing family life. “From the feedback I received, there actually hasn’t been too much support of the 6-month maternity leave (proposal), reason being that most mothers fear that they may risk losing their jobs or have an impact on mothers or mothers-to-be who are looking for jobs.”
In fact, a number of working mothers are already under strain from the current 16-week maternity entitlement under the Child Development Co-Savings Act. Sher-li comments, “Since 2010, I have received numerous emails from mothers who were fired after they returned from their maternity leave, or were given positions that somehow mean less career advancement. And this was for 4 months’ maternity leave; imagine the damage when it becomes 6 months?”
While Sher-li feels that the proposal is “a very ‘sweeping’ solution” that might look good on paper, she questions whether it address the work-family balance that parents urgently need?
“In truth, parenthood is lifetime and (parents) actually need more time off when the child is a toddler, goes to school, etc.” she says. “Though the first 6 months is important, it’s the first 6-12 years that we need more support.”
Hinging on the offer that NTUC proposed, Sher-li suggests a more practical approach. “If the 6 month’s leave was replaced by increased number of days of childcare (and infant-care) leave, you can see how it can help parents in the longer-term. If (the proposed) additional 2 months is spread out over 6 years, we are looking at 7 more days per year of childcare leave. It (also bears less) of an impact on employers.”