The paternity leave debate

Official paternity leave could finally get the go-ahead in Singapore, announced Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his National Day Rally Speech this year. While the government had previously resisted the idea, he said that it might be time for a change.

“We have said ‘no’ for a long time, but I think it is time we change to signal the importance of the father’s role and your shared responsibility for raising children,” Lee said.

The news was heralded by interest groups, which have been lobbying for the cause for some time. In February this year, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) called for comprehensive changes to parental leave, if Singapore wanted to reverse its declining birth trend. Its key recommendations include two weeks of paid paternity leave as well as the conversion of the fourth month of maternity leave into ‘parental leave’, able to be taken by either parent.

Working parents that HRM spoke to said paternity leave would allow fathers more time to bond with their children. “It’s not only the mother that is ragged with all the new adjustments and responsibilities of caring for a newborn – fathers are just as stressed and under-slept,” says Regina DiBenedetto, Director, Aareal Bank Asia.

Anoop Pandey, Global Technical Administrator, Barclays Capital and father of a newborn son, concurs. “Once a person has time for his children, he will be more productive at work too.”

Some 79% of respondents in survey by HRM were in favour of paternity leave. This group also indicated that one to two weeks of paternity leave would be optimal.

Employers also raised concerns about the feasibility of legislated mandatory leave, especially in view of lost man hours, and reduced productivity and business competitiveness. At present, about 50% of companies in Singapore provide at least two days of paternity leave.

Employers concerned

Employers in Singapore have been viewing the proposed changes to paternity leave with caution. The Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) was one of the first to voice its views. It suggested that introducing such a measure should be manageable for employees.

“Our view is also that any legislated paternity leave takes into account the existing leave schemes of companies and complements them. Our preference is still for the government to incentivise companies to introduce paternity leave, rather than to legislate it,” says Tan Kwang Cheak, Assistant Executive Director and Director for Development, SNEF.

SNEF was also reserved about the possibility of shared parental leave. “It is a new concept to employers and will have a significant adverse impact in terms of their manpower availability, particularly in the current tight labour market,” Tan says.

Small and medium enterprises are requesting government incentives to counter disruption to their businesses. The Association for Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) would like paternity leave to be capped at one month. “Paternity leave, if made mandatory, should not be too long, says Chan Chong Beng, President, ASME. “It is more than sufficient, since men are already spending time away from their offices due to their National Service commitments. A lot of men are also key position holders within their organisations, and thus cannot afford to be away from their offices for too long.”

Notification systems within organisations will need to be revised or revamped to accommodate the new regulations, which may increase the workload for existing HR staff and strain processes, adds Chan.

Companies are also currently facing manpower shortages, says Chan. “A realistic time to implement paternity leave for companies would be when these manpower issues have been alleviated to a certain degree, when companies have more breathing room and resources to deal with this implementation.”

Apart from leave provisions, SNEF feels that it is important to focus on flexible work arrangements and work-life harmony for employees. “The Government can provide more incentives for companies to innovate work arrangements and devise career management, mentoring, and other HR schemes that can help working mothers balance work and family,” Tan says.

Mindset change needed

As with any revolutionary change, paternity leave will have its own trade-offs and impact, says Lim Soon Hock, Chairman, National Family Council. “Businesses should, and must adjust to this change, much like what they have achieved with reservist training. It is vital to renew our talent pool.”

Lim feels that mandatory paternity leave would have minimal impact on employability and productivity. “Firstly, women can choose to return to work earlier, and secondly, corporate productivity will not be compromised as one of the spouses will return to work.”

Goh Ban Ping, Head of Regional HR, Asia at Sennheiser Consumer Electronics says she “would not mind” mandatory paternity leave as the birth of a child becomes a shared responsibility for both parents. “From a hiring perspective, employees will be more open to hire female employees as male employees also have to take leave for the birth of their child.”

Re-arranging the workload of affected employees is one solution. Sennheiser sometimes overlaps its headcount to ensure continuity of work and offloads important projects to those who are not going on long leave. “For example, we employ temporary contract staff to cover the administration area of the work, and let the permanent headcount cover the more important work for the other person while he is on leave,” explains Goh.

Job rotation is another alternative. “We encourage employers to look at job rotation as a norm of work so that at least two people will know the same job, when the need arises,” Goh says. Sennheiser also taps on interns as “they are a very good resource that will stay at least for the term the school requires them to cover.”

Balanced and happy employees are more productive and engaged, Lim says, suggesting a well-though out parental leave scheme can only be a “win-win” situation for both employers and employees. “With that said, the implementation of paternity leave will need to be at a pace that is comfortable for all.”

Paternity leave worldwide

Country

Paternity leave offered

Sweden

Two out of 16 maternity leave months can be used by fathers

South Korea

Five days

Hong Kong

None

United Kingdom

Two weeks at a fixed rate of £128.73 (US$209) per week

United States

No federal paid parental leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives fathers access to 12 weeks of unpaid leave but companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt

Denmark

Two out of 52 weeks of paid maternity leave reserved for father

 

HRM Paternity Leave survey results

HRM recently polled HR professionals and business leaders in Singapore on their views about paternity leave. These are the results:

Does your organisation currently offer paternity leave in Singapore?

Yes - 71%

No - 26%

No Response - 3%

Would you like mandatory paternity leave to be implemented in Singapore?

Yes - 84%

No - 15%

No Response - 1%

If there is no separate paternity leave, do you think maternity leave should be shared?

Yes - 40%

No - 59%

No Response - 1%

 

AWARE: Paternity leave should be mandatory

In February this year, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) called for five policy changes:

•        Make paid paternity leave of two weeks mandatory, with the cost shared between the employer and the state

•        Convert the fourth month of maternity leave into ‘parental leave’ to be taken by either parent, with the state sharing the cost with the employer when the father takes this leave

•        Offer a ‘parenting present’ of $4,000 to couples where the father takes the fourth month of converted maternity leave

•        Convert the currently mandated six days of paid childcare leave into dependents leave, with ‘dependents’ including older children and parents

•        Extend to unwed parents the same parenting leave benefits enjoyed by married parents.

 

Comments from HRM survey

Yes to paternity leave

“I believe that productivity will actually be enhanced if fathers have time to focus to settle family matters as opposed to turning up for work and not be present. It is the right way forward for recognising gender roles and responsibilities and encouraging more couples to have children- again fulfilling something imperative to Singapore”

– Sheela Parakkal, Group HR Director, Clean Energy Projects industry

“Bringing up children is a shared responsibility between wife and husband. Companies should encourage this, instead of being short-sighted and fear that productivity will fall”

– Eddy Neo, HR Director – South Asia, Chemicals industry

No to paternity leave

“I feel that making it mandatory (depending on length of leave) could place burdens on both employers and the other employees covering the jobs of the employee going on paternity leave… Making everything mandatory could give rise to an attitude of ‘entitlement’. The singles may feel left out in the midst of all these”

– Laurel Leong, HR consultant, finance industry

“Who bears the costs of this? I am an employee, but this question will be asked by my employers. Would the government consider paying for my salary and give extra tax breaks to the company I’m employed in? (ie. to cover the loss of profit which ought to have been generated by me)”

– Anonymous

Maybe to paternity leave

“Concerns can be managed if there are clear guidelines. For example, paternity leave for up to 3 children including adoption, taken only at time of birth of the child. No deferment of paternity leave as doing so defeats the purpose at why the leave is given/or extended in the first place - which is to lend a helping hand to the new mother, to bond with the newborn child & to help the rest of the family to bond with the new inclusion to the family”

– Chan HS, Head of HR, ICT industry

“Preferably both parents should share the maternity leave. For example, if the mother has 16 weeks of maternity leave and chooses to come back to work after 8 weeks, the father can take over the other 8 weeks.  Concerns would be the complexity in tracking the leave consumed and seeking reimbursements from the government”

– Grace Oh, HR Generalist, IT industry

 



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