Budget response speech by Louis Ng
“Daddy why don’t I take the school bus so that you do not need to rush anymore”. Those words by my daughter Ella cut through my heart like a knife. My 6 year old daughter taught me an important lesson that morning when I was sending her to school last year, a very painful lesson.
She made me realise that it was time to slow down and not rush all the time especially in front of her, how my actions had made her feel bad and a reminder about how precious time is.
“Spend time with those you love, one of these days you will either say I wish I had or I’m glad I did”. I used this quote in this House a few years ago and I’m sharing it again not just because it’s a beautiful quote to live by but also as a timely reminder to myself and to all of us.
I do enjoy sending Ella to school. I love singing all the Disney songs with her on the way to school, I love listening to her talk about her dreams, how she was at the ice palace and enchanted forest and met Elsa. I love listening to all the gossips and playground politics in her school and my goodness there is so much politics. But most of all I love just spending time with her, precious daddy-Ella time. Time we can never get back.
Sir, we gave out a lot in this year’s budget, helping our workers, enterprises, parents and their children, seniors and our environment. Many are appreciative of Budget 2020 but if there is one thing we didn’t give out, it is time. Time, which is priceless and time that we as a government can give out.
We need more precious time with our loved ones.
Ensuring we have enough time with our children
We need more time with our children who desperately need us. I’m glad we provide childcare leave, which “will provide sufficient time for working parents to care for and spend quality time with their children”.
But it has been more than a decade since childcare leave provisions were increased and it is time to review this again.
Is the current six days sufficient? We already know that the vast majority of childcare centres have six days of annual closure. This means that for most parents, the entire six days of childcare leave could be used just for these annual closures. Let’s not forget about the additional 3 half-days closures on the eve of any of the 5 stipulated public holidays.
What happens when your child falls sick or for any other times when childcare leave is needed?
Sir, my first suggestion is that we have specific childcare sick leave. Applications for such leave must be supported by a medical certificate.
This is much needed as parents should be there to look after their children when they are sick. Out of all the illnesses, let me focus on the Hand Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD) as an example of why we need more childcare leave.
In Singapore, 90 per cent of children have had HFMD infection by 12 years of age. This is something almost all parents face and we should help them. We must.
It is extremely difficult for parents to find help to look after their children as the infection can last for about two weeks. It is also hard to find someone to look after your child as the caregiver has a good chance of being infected. I was infected by my children when they had HFMD.
From the employer standpoint, do they really want their employee who may also be infected to come to the office and possibly spread the disease or any other illnesses to other employees resulting in everyone going on medical leave?
Also, do we honestly think that the employee can concentrate at work and be productive? Won’t they be worrying about their child who is sick? How is this beneficial to the company?
Having a childcare sick leave will help the children, the parents and ultimately the employers.
Sir, my second suggestion is that we provide this childcare sick leave on a per child basis.
Our current childcare leave doesn’t make sense. Surely, we can all agree here that if you need 6 days of childcare leave for one child, you can’t also only need 6 days of childcare leave for two, or three or four children.
It may make sense if you can make sure all your children fall sick at the same time, which is not quite possible.
Sir, having a childcare sick leave and having it on a per child basis is not something foreign to this government.
The public service, one of the largest employers in Singapore, already gives some officers childcare sick leave and it’s on a per child basis.
For example, officers with 2 children, one of whom is below age 7 is eligible for 4 days of childcare leave per year with MC. An officer with 3 or more children, has 9 days of childcare leave per year with MC. This is on top of the 6 days of childcare leave per year.
This government clearly feels that childcare sick leave is important for people who work for the government, why then would it not be important for the people we serve? Let’s level the playing field.
There may be an argument that giving more childcare leave can inadvertently affect the employment prospects of parents with more children. But this is not the case in the public service and surely this cannot be a reason for us to not do what is right for our people. Surely, the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices can be used to address this concern?
If we want Singaporeans to have kids and have more kids, then we need to give them time to look after and be with their kids. It’s not just about making pre-school more affordable. That is important but many I spoke to feel that if they are going to have kids but just leave the kids at childcare centres most of the time, then what is the point of having kids?
We are trying hard to increase our TFR and beyond the dollars and cents, we also need to look into providing more time for parents to spend with their children.
The reply to my suggestions might be that we rather focus on flexible work arrangements. But this is not a zero sum game. We can work on providing more flexible working arrangements and also legislate more childcare leave for our people.
Sir, Deputy Speaker Charles Chong gave me one of the best advice just before the last General Elections. I used to help out at his MPS and he always made sure I go home as early as possible once MPS ended. He said “Louis make sure you don’t go home one day and your daughter calls you uncle”.
That advice is not just for me but for everyone and a reminder that while we work hard, we should also spend quality time with our loved ones.
And it is not just about spending time with our children but also with our parents.
Ensuring we have enough time with our parents
Sir, I’m glad that the all civil servants are eligible for up to two days of parent-care leave per year and that a growing number of civil servants are using both days of leave.
The government has stated, “With a rapidly ageing population and smaller family units, officers with elderly parents will need time to take care of them. The new parent-care leave reflects our position as a family-friendly employer.”
It is encouraging that an increasing number of private companies are providing this. In 2018, 20% of private sector companies offered such leave benefits, up from 15% in 2012. But 20% is really a small percentage.
Our parents are the reason we are here today. They worked hard to bring us up and looked after us when we were young. We should be there for them when they are aging and now need us to look after them.
Sir, I lost my dad 5 years ago. On 11 May 2015, I was getting ready to go to work and I told my wife I was going to inform the ACRES team that I needed to take some time off to spend with my dad who was in hospital.
I was already visiting him every day but I decided I should spend more time with him. As I was about to leave my house, my sister called and told me that daddy had lost consciousness. He passed away that day.
I really wish I can turn back time. I made a mistake and I regret it till today. I wish I had spent more time with daddy.
Perhaps through sharing this with everyone, this wound might finally heal and through sharing, I hope that others will not make the same mistake I made. Spend time with those you love and remember that life is a one-way ticket.
Sir, this government recognises that we need to spend time to look after our parents. It has been 8 years since we introduced parent-care leave in the civil service and it is time now for everyone else to have this. We need to legislate it.
The government’s statement “With a rapidly ageing population and smaller family units, officers with elderly parents will need time to take care of them”, holds true for all of us and not just civil servants.
If the government feels that it is important for civil servants to have parent-care leave, then why not other? We are a family-friendly employer and now we should be a family-friendly government.
I understand that the tripartite partners have also encouraged more employers to adopt the Tripartite Standard on Unpaid Leave for Unexpected Care Needs, regardless of whether they already provide parent-care leave.
But this is unpaid leave. Why do civil servants get paid parent-care leave and other have unpaid leave? Again, can we level this playing field?
I also understand that care-givers have given feedback that they prefer flexible work arrangements over parental leave, as a more sustainable way to balance work and care-giving responsibilities.
But the parent-care leave we provide to everyone can again be the same as those provided to civil servants where they have the flexibility to take this leave in full or half day blocks. This will address the feedback we’ve received and if we want to, we can take it a step further and offer the parent-care leave in blocks of hours.
It is ultimately a personal choice to take leave and to spend time with those you love but the government can help make things easier for employees and I hope we do so.
Sir, PM said a few months ago that “We will always stand with workers (and) ensure your well-being. We will always do our best to help you and your children progress with Singapore and have a better life”.
Let’s also stand with our workers when it comes to childcare leave and parent-care leave.
Time is the most precious commodity. I hope this budget is not just about the economy but also about giving our people precious time to rest and to spend with their loved ones.
In conclusion, I hope that we can
1. Introduce a new childcare sick leave.
2. Provide this childcare sick leave on a per child basis.
3. Legislate the provision of parent-care leave.
Minister Vivian once said “Life is a one way ticket. A baby will only remain a baby for a very short time. They will grow up before we even realise it. The thing about life is we cannot rewind time. So my advice to young parents here is, your children need you, they need you desperately, and they need you only for a very very transient time in their lives. If we miss it, we can’t get it back.”
Sir, I thought I should end by saying that I’m still sending my daughter to school and picking her up. A few months ago, she made a card in school for me and gave it to me when I picked her up.
This time she melted my heart with her words. She said “I love you daddy because you always take me to school”.
I’m now a part-time school bus driver as I now also have to send our twins, Katie and Poppy to school. They too melt my heart with their words. I picked Poppy up the other day and she gave me a big hug and said “Daddy I really missed you”.
I look forward to more previous Daddy-Ella, Daddy-Katie and Daddy-Poppy time. I look forward to more hugs, more laughs and much more sweet words from them that give me that warm fuzzy feeling.
Sir, let’s give our people more precious time to spend with their loved ones.
Watch the speech here