Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, at the Second Reading of the Child Development Co-Savings (Amendment) Bill (Bill No. 15/2021)
Mdm, this Bill is a step in the right direction. It expands support to a wider group of working parents and promotes a more family-friendly working environment.
The roles of working parents are already challenging in the best of times. Any support is even more welcomed in challenging times like the present pandemic.
While I am supportive of the measures of this Bill, I sincerely hope we can amend this piece of legislation further and provide more support to more parents.
I have three suggestions.
Providing miscarriage leave benefit
My first suggestion is about leave benefits where to-be parents suffer a miscarriage.
I am supportive of the move in this Bill to provide birth-linked leave and benefits to parents of stillborn children. This is a compassionate policy which recognises the need for these parents to recover physically and emotionally.
Will the Ministry consider going further and reviewing its leave policies where a mother miscarries before the 28thweek of pregnancy?
While a stillborn child is defined as a child who is birthed after the 28thweek of pregnancy, the event is no less traumatic for parents where a mother miscarries in the 27thweek of pregnancy.
Currently, these mothers are not eligible for maternity leave. MOM’s guidance instead states that these others may take sick leave to recover.
However, suffering a miscarriage is very different from coming down with the flu. It is also the mother who is entitled to sick leave to recover physically.
The reality is that these parents, both mother and father, may require time to recover together.
Will the Ministry consider taking a first step by providing partial reimbursements to employers who provide leave benefits to parents where a mother miscarries before the 28thweek of pregnancy?
Providing the cash component of the baby bonus for single unweds
Mdm, I would also like to take this opportunity to ask the Ministry to look into two other important issues, which I will cover in my second and third suggestions.
My second suggestion is on providing the cash component of the Baby Bonus for single unwed parents. I’ve spoken up about this many times over the years and it is time that we allow single unwed parents to qualify for the cash component of the Baby Bonus.
This Bill extends support to parents including working fathers, adoptive mothers on short-term employment contracts, retrenched parents, and parents with stillborn children.
Single unwed parents are also parents.
In fact, if it is difficult to be a working parent, single unwed working parents have an even heavier burden of filling the shoes of both parental figures both emotionally and financially.
The government’s stance towards single unwed parents has evolved, and I am appreciative of it.
In 2019, then SPS Sun Xueling said this in response to my adjournment motion:
“Single unwed parents and their children are valued citizens in our society, and like all parents, are respected for the love and care they have provided for their children. They are no less a mother or a father, just because their child was born outside of marriage.
Their children, like any other child in our society, are precious and every parent regardless of their marital status, ought to be treated with respect. I acknowledge that in the past, the Government was fairly strict in limiting public housing access to married couples.
However, over time, this position has evolved. For single unwed parents, we hope to facilitate their efforts to build a stable environment for their child”.
Indeed, we have made much progress. We already provided them with the CDAC component of the Baby Bonus. We have leveled the playing field in terms of maternity leave.
The cash component of the Baby Bonus will go a long way in helping single unwed parents build a stable environment for their children. This policy has to evolve too.
This discrimination may lead to the odd position where millionaires may be getting cash from the Baby Bonus – cash they don’t need.
But single unwed parents do not receive the same benefits – even though they too are parents, even though many of them are low-income, with those under 35 years old having just a median salary of $600.
Many single unwed parents need the cash component more than parents in dual-income families. They are not asking for more. They are asking to be treated fair and equally.
I sincerely hope that the Ministry will review this.
Phased increase of paternity leave
My last point is on paternity leave.
Members of this House will be no stranger to my daughters Ella, Katie and Poppy. Some members tell me that they wait for me to say their names in my speeches.
I have shared many of their stories in this house. All these stories come from the memories I have forged with them through time spent together, precious time, especially when they were little babies.
I took my paternity leave, treasured it and wished I had more time. My factory is closed so I won’t ever get paternity leave again but I know how important this leave is and I want to make sure fathers have precious time with their children. I’ve said this many times, “Spend time with those you love, one of these days, you will either say I wish I had or I’m glad I did.”
Study after study show that paternity leave is vital.
Researchers at NUS looked into this and published their findings just a few months ago. “This is the first evidence-based research that documents the positive relationship between paternity leave provision and family dynamics and children’s well-being in Singapore. It is useful to see that in addition to the immediate benefit for fathers to share the joy and responsibility of childcare when a child was born, leave-taking has a mid-to-long-term impact on children’s and family’s well-being and that a longer leave has greater benefits to children’s well-being”.
They concluded that a 2-week or longer paternity leave is significantly related to lower family conflict, maternal depression, and mothers’ parenting aggravation, and positively related to marital satisfaction and father-child closeness.
In addition, children whose fathers took paternity leave have fewer behavior problems.
These findings were similar to an IPS research paper in 2019 that found that fathers who took paternity leave experienced reduced conflict, stronger family relationships, and increased satisfaction in their marriage.
Mdm, we are calling for more paternity leave not just for fathers to have more time with their babies but also to fight the gender stereotype.
What message do we send out when we give mothers 16 weeks of maternity leave and fathers just 2 weeks of paternity leave?
The IPS research paper stated that, “family policies in Singapore continue to signal that childcare is a woman’s responsibility and reinforce gender stereotypes”. Indeed they do.
The policy recommendations put forth by the IPS study include extending the length of paternity leave and that instead of shared parenting leave, exclusive and non-transferable paternity leave can be put in place for parents.
I wholeheartedly support this call and hope that we set a target year – perhaps 2030 or 2040 – at which we will have an equal number of paternity leave and maternity leave.
We can introduce the increases to paternity leave in phases, giving our employers time to plan ahead, while also providing a clear signal of our intentions to reduce the gender stereotype around parenting.
I hope Minister will look into this proposal in consultation with the relevant stakeholders including the tripartite partners and NGOs such as Families for Life and Centre for Fathering?
Mdm, lastly, can Minister share if any public consultation was done for this Bill?
If public consultation wasn’t done, can Minister share the reasons why it was not done.
Given the amendments has significant effects on many families and all employers, I am sure many would applaud the amendments in this Bill.
I am also equally sure that many would have constructive feedback that would have helped refine the Bill.
Mdm, this Bill is all about families and parenting. And we all need to remember the advice Minister Vivian gave us. “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, notwithstanding the above points, I stand in support of the Bill.
Watch the speech here.