Paternity leave for was doubled in 2015 so fathers can enjoy two weeks with their new babies. But the take-up rate for this scheme, which is on a voluntary basis, has been very modest and "can be much higher", says Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo.
Detailed data will be released at a later date. But she said: "Some young fathers may not be aware of it yet. And some do encounter a little bit of difficulty when they raise it with their employers."
The civil service and several large corporations have implemented the enhanced paternity leave, which gives fathers an extra week off work, the payment of which will be borne by the Government. But small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which hire 70 per cent of the local workforce, have not been as quick to implement it owing to their tight manpower.
Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, told The Straits Times in November that among eligible SME employees, only 40 per cent take up a full week of paternity leave.
The good news is that this issue is one of Minister Teo’s three priorities this year. She oversees population matters at the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD),. Her other priorities: affordable childcare services reach those who need them and to a conducive environment for couples to start a family.
Minister Teo says it’s important for fathers to play an active role in raising their children, especially with eight in 10 women aged 25 to 54 active in the workforce. The Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP gave an update on the population portfolio to reporters on Jan 4, 2016, when she welcomed children on their first day of school at the PAP Community Foundation Sparkletots Childcare in Bishan.
She took over the job in October last year from Ms Grace Fu, who became Minister for Culture, Community and Youth.
The childcare services to be made available will not only be affordable but of good quality as well, she says. The Early Childhood Development Agency, she notes, is on track to meet its target of providing full-day childcare services for one in two children by next year. About 13,000 places were added last year.
Latest official numbers show about 30,500 Singaporean babies were born as at Dec 1 last year, Singapore's Golden Jubilee year. The full year's figures are expected to be close to the 33,193 citizen births in 2014 – up from 31,017 such births in 2013, but a tad lower than the 33,238 births in 2012, which was the auspicious Year of the Dragon for Chinese births.
She says boosting the birth rate will need taking approaches beyond policies or incentives. Rather, it is important to "enhance workplace and community support for parenting". This means convincing stakeholders, such as employers and shopping malls, to provide flexible work options and family-friendly amenities, for instance.
It is about "how they help couples feel that parenting is a very rewarding process, and help minimise the stress that comes with it", she says. Coaxing people to get married and have babies earlier was "a little bit more dicey (and) harder to work on", given such meaningful pursuits as studies and careers, she noted. "It takes a whole society, a whole culture, to put marriage as a priority to get this going," she said, adding that the NPTD will gather more feedback on this front.
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