I’m glad we have introduced this Bill which includes many things so many of us have been fighting for, for so many years now. The increase in paternity leave is very much welcomed. It is something very close to my heart and this change sends a strong signal about the important role fathers play. It also signals that the government is listening, listening to concerns on the ground and listening to our repeated questions in this house on these important issues although we sometimes get the same repeated replies.
But this Bill also doesn’t include many things many of us are still fighting for and I hope that changes will be made as we move towards a more inclusive society and a Singapore Made for Families.
I have three points of clarification.
Provide roadmap to equalise parental leave
My first point is on equalising parental leave. This is a point I have raised repeatedly and will raise again and again because it is an important point.
Just last year, Minister Josephine spoke about whether equalising parental leave would better reflect the desire for equal sharing of responsibilities.
She said, “Questions like these should not be forgotten. Every now and then, we should revisit them. And even if we do not, Mr Louis Ng will make sure that we do”.
We should revisit this every now and then. I raised this earlier this year and will raise it again now.
I am glad we have doubled paternity leave. But can go further to eventually equalise parental leave.
I am heartened that Minister Indranee has said that the government will continue to work with the tripartite partners to review the scope for more parental leave provisions.
Can the government work with tripartite partners to come up with a roadmap to equalise parental leave?
I fully understand this is not a one-year, two-year, or even three-year road map. Our 4 weeks of paternity leave will take time to catch up with the 16 weeks of maternity leave.
I agree with Minister Indranee who said that the two parts of the equation are fathers taking up paternity leave and employers being supportive of fathers going on paternity leave.
Our employers will need time to adjust to equalising paternity leave. Let’s help our employers by providing them with the roadmap they need for business certainty.
We should remember that an IPS study highlighted that our policies signal that childcare is a woman’s responsibility and reinforce gender stereotypes. Equalising parental leave is a step forward towards reducing gender stereotypes and I hope the government will seriously consider this.
Increase childcare sick leave
Next, I am heartened that as part of the Made for Families initiative, the government is providing more support for families by increasing unpaid infant care leave.
In the same spirit, I hope we can consider introducing childcare sick leave for all Singaporeans. This, I have raised many times as well and I wish it was part of this Bill.
Civil servants already have childcare sick leave. Other Singaporean families should also have this.
Childcare sick leave is a necessity. It is important for the health of our children and families.
Recently, a teacher emailed me to share her struggles with her child who is constantly falling ill. She told me that her child is always falling sick and had already been hospitalised twice for pneumonia and acute bronchitis.
She told me that the number of childcare leave is really not enough.
She said: “I feel the horrible lack of child care leave days in Singapore has resulted in parents sending their sick kids to school, which in turn increases the infection rates and causes kids to fall sick easily. I have personally heard colleagues and friends saying that they send their kids to school as long as they don’t have a fever because they just have no choice due to the number of leave days. As a parent who tries her best to keep her child at home till he recovers, this is very frustrating because my child falls sick again a few days after returning to school.”
This teacher ended her email by saying that, “Although I am passionate about teaching and impacting the lives of the younger ones, such experiences leave me thinking that I should leave the service, which is a waste.”
Her story is not unusual.
If we are to be a Singapore Made for Families, will the government consider providing childcare sick leave on a per child basis for all Singaporeans? This is no different from what we are already doing for civil servants.
Provide cash component of baby bonus to single unweds
My final point is on a group of parents who are often overlooked and discriminated against – single unwed parents. I’m glad we have previously amended the Child Development Co-Savings Act to provide more support for single unwed parents, including providing them the CDA component of the baby bonus.
I hope we can now provide them the cash component of the baby bonus. I know this is not part of the Bill but it really should be. This money is not a luxury but a lifeline for many single unwed parents.
Since 2016, I have spoken up 9 times for extending the Working Mother’s Child Relief, Parenthood Tax Rebate and the cash component of the baby bonus to single unwed parents.
This will be my tenth time raising this.
This is also an issue of fairness. This is not about incentivising or disincentivising any behaviours. What exactly is the policy objective of not providing the cash component of the baby bonus to single unwed parents?
17 years ago, Minister Indranee who was a backbencher in this house said, “The third group of people who do not really feel included are the single unwed mothers who are not allowed to rent HDB flats. I do strongly feel that this is an outdated policy. I have spoken on this before, and I understand that the rationale is that MND does not want to encourage them to have babies out of wedlock. But if this is the policy objective, it is not working, because there are many children born out of wedlock. As I have said before, the availability of rental flats is not something that the couple have in mind when they engage in the activity that results in the child. That is the last thought on their minds.”
I’m quite sure that before the couple have sex, they similarly do not think about the cash component of the baby bonus. I’m quite sure we all agree they don’t.
We have progressed and changed our outdated policy of not allowing single unwed parents to rent HDB flats. It is time to also change this outdated policy of not providing single unwed parents with the cash component of the baby bonus.
President Tharman said in 2013 that single unwed mothers need more help than others, including in the area of financial assistance. He said, “We’re all in this together and the Government will do its part.”
It has been 10 years since his speech. The Government has indeed done more for single unwed parents. But it has not done enough.
In our national pledge, we pledge to build a democratic society based on justice and equality.
On the issue of the cash component of the Baby Bonus, and also the Working Mother’s Child Relief and the Parenthood Tax Rebate we have done single unwed parents an injustice, an inequality.
I am not asking for single unwed parents to have more. Only that they have equal to what any other parent is entitled to.
I hope we can review our policy and start by providing the cash component of the baby bonus to single unweds.
In summary, I hope we can provide a roadmap for equalising parental leave, introduce childcare sick leave and extend the cash component of the baby bonus to single unwed parents.
Notwithstanding these clarifications, I stand in support of the Bill.
Watch the speech here.