More unpaid infant-care leave will be offered to parents working in the public sector from July 2017. This move will help address a “care giving gap”, says Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Josephine Teo last week.
Under a three-year pilot run, public sector officers and their spouses will get an additional four weeks of unpaid infant care leave per parent. This brings the total amount of guaranteed parental leave to six months or 26 weeks per couple, up from 22 weeks, Channel News Asia reports.
During the Committee of Supply debates in Parliament, Mrs. Teo said, “This means that as long as one parent is working in the public service, the couple can have up to 26 weeks of leave, or six months, between them.”
Currently working parents can together enjoy 20 weeks of paid leave after their child is born, and two-weeks of unpaid leave. This consists of 16-weeks paid maternity leave and two weeks of paid paternity leave, a week of paid childcare per parent and a week of unpaid infant care leave per parent.
While infant care centres are able to take in babies from two months old, most parents feel more confident to leave their children in these centres when they are six months old. For these parents, there could then be a gap of around four weeks, Mrs Teo noted.
The public sector will take the lead to close the care giving gap with the additional four weeks of unpaid infant care leave per parent. It is to be taken within the child’s first year. When asked Mrs. Teo why is this additional leave unpaid, she said, “even with paid parental leave, some parents have not been using them in full.”
“Some do not need all the leave provided; others face pressures 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,” she later added.
Hence the main objective of launching this pilot for three-years is to test the general viability of longer parental leave and which would require all supervisors to facilitate such leave. Under this pilot, Mrs Teo assured that, supervisors in the public sector, which includes ministries and statutory boards, will no longer be able to say “maybe yes, maybe no” when employees apply for parental leave.
“The leave provision is gender neutral; both male and female public officers are eligible to apply. As long as they have been given reasonable notice, supervisors will have to accede to all applications for such parental leave and make the necessary work adjustments.”
While extending parental leave can unwittingly be an added source of tension at the workplace, with some employers facing greater difficulty in accommodating staff with childcare needs, while some parents also share of the pushback they experience from co-workers.