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BUDGET 2017

Public servants to get 4 more weeks of unpaid infant-care leave

Working parents now jointly get 22 weeks of parental leave. It goes up to 26 in July if one spouse is a civil servant

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Public servants in Singapore with newborns will soon benefit from a pilot scheme that provides an extra four weeks of unpaid infant-care leave per parent, which can be taken within the child's first year.

Singapore

PUBLIC servants in Singapore with newborns will soon benefit from a pilot scheme that provides an extra four weeks of unpaid infant-care leave per parent, which can be taken within the child's first year.

Currently, both working parents are together eligible for 22 weeks of parental leave, comprising 20 weeks of paid leave in the first year, and two weeks of unpaid leave.

This comprises 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, two weeks of paid paternity leave, a week of paid childcare leave per parent, and a week of unpaid infant-care leave per parent.

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Under the pilot scheme, which starts in July and will last for three years, a couple with one spouse in the Public Service will have up to 26 weeks of parental leave between them. If both spouses work in the Public Service, the couple can jointly take as long as 30 weeks in total.

The leave provision is gender-neutral, with both male and female public officers eligible for it. Supervisors have to accede to all applications for such parental leave, as long as the officer gives reasonable notice.

Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, who oversees population matters, announced the additional leave in Parliament on Thursday during the debate on the budget for the Prime Minister's Office.

She noted that infant-care centres here are able to accept babies aged two months and up, but most parents feel more confident about leaving their baby at such centres only from the time the child is about six months or 26 weeks old.

This means that even if parents use up their current total of 22 weeks of parental leave, there could be a "caregiving gap" of around four weeks.

Mrs Teo said the aim was to provide better workplace support for these parents, while balancing the need for businesses to adjust to enhancements to parental leave.

She added that the public sector - all ministries and statutory boards - will take the lead on this front to close the potential caregiving gap.

Explaining why the extra four weeks of infant-care leave is unpaid, she said that some parents do not use all their paid parental leave.

"Some do not need all the leave provided; others face pressure at work that prevent them from taking more parental leave. Further paid leave does not benefit these parents.

"Instead, parents want better assurance of workplace support, that they can take all their parental leave provisions if they need them."

This pilot scheme is meant to test the general viability of longer parental leave, and determine whether a nationwide rollout would be possible in future, said Mrs Teo.

She added that although the pilot is confined to the public sector for now, she hoped some private companies would also join in at some point and lead the way.

She acknowledged that some employers already face "great difficulty" in accommodating staff with childcare needs, and that some parents are on the receiving end of pushback from their co-workers.

Extending parental leave can unwittingly be an added source of tension at the workplace, she said.

Earlier in the debate, she also spoke about immigration-related issues. Singapore has about 2.2 million citizens in the prime working ages of 20 to 64 years; the size of this segment will fall by nearly 10 per cent by 2030 without immigration.

But the current immigration rates will enable the Republic to maintain the size of the citizen population of prime working age at about 2.1 million to 2.2 million.

Singapore's old-age support ratio (OASR), which refers to the number of working-age citizens for every citizen aged 65 or older, will decline from five currently to two in 2030.

"This is the decline with current immigration rates. Without immigration, the decline would be steeper. A diminishing OASR has serious implications, including on the economic vitality we hope future generations of Singaporeans can enjoy," she said.

Immigration is a "sensitive matter" that should not become a numbers game, she said. "Besides achieving a better population balance, we must consider the ability of new citizens to assimilate into our Singaporean family, which is itself increasingly diverse in origin and outlook."

The government is keeping the pace of immigration stable. Last year, 22,102 people were granted citizenship; 31,050 became permanent residents. The vast majority of adult new citizens have lived in Singapore for five years or more before naturalisation.

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