Maternity Leave in Singapore

Existing Maternity Leave Policy in Singapore

As long as the pregnant employee is covered under the Employment Act, she will be entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave immediately after delivery. This will allow her to recover from the physical trauma of delivery to her body, and also to care for her newborn child. This duration is the same regardless of whether the working mother is unmarried, non-Singaporean (whether foreigner or permanent resident) or if the child is not a Singapore citizen.

However, her employer will only be bound to pay her for up to the first eight weeks of maternity leave (and subsequently claim reimbursement from the government) and is not required by law to pay for the remaining four weeks. Also, employees will only be paid for the first eight weeks of maternity leave if they currently have two or less children (excluding the newborn) and have worked for the employer for at least three months prior to delivery.

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Read also: Paternity Leave in Singapore

If the employee is also covered under the Child Development Co-Savings Act (i.e. she is married and her child is a Singapore citizen, among other things), she will be entitled to not just 12 but an additional four weeks of maternity leave. These four weeks can be taken immediately before the delivery of the child, giving the employee time to rest and prepare for the delivery. In addition, the employer can also claim reimbursement from the government for the last eight weeks of leave for the employee’s first and second children, and the entire 16 weeks for her subsequent children.

Such government legislation has made it compulsory for employees to be allowed to take at least two months off work after giving birth to recover from the delivery and also to take care of the newborn child’s needs. However, this has led to some employees being dismissed after giving their employers notice of their pregnancy as they are perceived to be “deadweights” – being unable to contribute to the productivity of the company while on maternity leave, yet still drawing a salary during this period of time.

Discrimination Against Pregnant Employees

While pregnancy discrimination, like any other form of discrimination, is heavily frowned upon, it is seen to still happen occasionally (although this may sometimes be difficult to prove, as the employer cites reasons such as poor job performance as the cause for dismissal). As such, the government has made changes to the maternity leave scheme in order to reduce the occurrences of pregnant employees being discriminated against. From 1 May 2013 onwards, employers will have to pay their pregnant employees maternity benefits if it is found that they have been dismissed from work without sufficient cause during any point of their pregnancy. The employee must have worked for the employer for at least three calendar months before she may qualify for such enhanced maternity protection.

Enhanced Maternity Protection

Enhanced maternity protection is seen to mostly benefit employees who are already in the workforce and subsequently become pregnant in the course of their employment. Employers will be deterred from firing them because if they are found to done so without “sufficient cause”, they will be liable to pay maternity benefits to the employee anyway. Pregnant job-seekers do not enjoy such protection, however, and may still find difficulty in securing a job. This is because employers have little incentive to hire them when they could hire others who would not have to take a long leave of absence shortly after starting work.

A Tough Pill For Some Employers

While beneficial for employees, enhanced maternity protection may be too difficult for some employers to swallow as they face increases in operating costs and decreases in productivity. This is because they still have to pay their pregnant employees when they go on maternity leave and are thus unable to reduce costs by replacing such employees with others better able to complete tasks. Employers will have to find ways of maintaining the sustainability of their operations in light of the enhancements to maternity protection.

In the meantime, working mothers appear supportive of the changes to maternity leave. “Employers should provide support for their female employees,” says Nurul, 29, who has just welcomed a new child to her family. “The government is doing all it can to encourage couples to have more babies and employers should mirror government policies on this issue. This is especially so in a meritocratic society like Singapore’s, where one’s career progression should be based solely on merit, and not on whether she is pregnant.”

For more information on maternity leave, click here.

paternity leave

Expectant employees are generally entitled to four weeks of paid maternity leave immediately before their children are born and another 12 weeks after that. This allows new mothers some time off work to care for and bond with their new-born children.

What then, of new fathers? Arguably, they should also be allowed to do the same – the father is no less important than the mother in the process of raising a child. In a bid to increase the country’s declining birth-rate, the Singapore government has enhanced the Marriage and Parenthood Package scheme by, among other things, granting all married fathers of Singaporean children born after 1 May 2013 one week of paternity leave. This is provided that they fulfill the criteria as set out in Part III of the Child Development Co-Savings Act, such as having to take the leave within 16 weeks of the child’s birth. The cost of paternity leave will be borne by the government (capped at $2,500, where this sum is inclusive of Central Provident Fund contributions).

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A Welcome Move for Fathers

This change is a welcome move for new fathers, who would have previously not been able to enjoy such benefits and would have had to take out some of their own leave if they wanted to spend time with their child. If the paternity leave is taken in such a way as to coincide with the period of time in which the new mother is also on maternity leave, the father could also lend a helping hand to his wife in taking care of the child, thus forging even closer bonds among the whole family. In addition, fathers may also share one out of the 16 weeks of maternity leave under the new shared parental leave scheme, if the mother agrees to it.

Read also: Maternity Leave in Singapore

Not a Welcoming Change for Companies

happy asian baby

Companies may not be as welcoming of the change as new fathers, however. While they need not bear the cost of paternity leave as it will be funded by the government, they may face possible manpower shortages as employees go absent from work to care for their children. It may not always be easy to assign another employee to perform the same task well, especially if there are insufficient people with the same expertise to complete the work. The problem only gets more complicated if many fathers take paternity leave at the same time. Seeing how paternity leave has been legislated for by the government such that employers cannot simply refuse to allow employees to take paternity leave, companies may find this new change unsustainable for their current methods of operation and will have to find ways of overcoming this hurdle, especially in the current labour crunch.

There may also be cause for reluctance for new fathers to apply for paternity leave. While their leave will be paid for by the government, they may lose out on opportunities during that one week, or also be graded more poorly during regular performance assessments for being seen as having contributed less to the company. These may affect their potential for career progression in the future, especially in companies which have been slow to embrace the work-life balance concept. As such, some fathers may choose to forgo their paternity leave and spend more time with their children during weekends instead.

The introduction of paternity leave in Singapore has been a welcome move as the government tries to create a more parenthood-friendly environment for people to get married and raise children in. However, it is seen that the paternity leave scheme still has some room for improvement, and it is expected that the scheme will undergo tweaks in the future to address the concerns of both employers and employees alike.

In the meantime however, at least one new father has taken advantage of the change and made full use of his newly-granted paternity leave. “I really enjoyed spending time bonding with my son,” says Rio, 30, who married a year ago and is now the proud father of his first child. “I wish that it could be longer though – one week is just too short. It would be great if paternity leave could be three or even four weeks long, so I can really get to spend time with my new family.”

Most Singaporeans just see Labour Day (known as International Workers’ Day in some countries) as an opportunity to rest instead of having to work, but many of us aren’t aware of its violent origins. This public holiday was created in commemoration of the 1886 Chicago Haymarket affair, where workers were holding a strike at Haymarket Square to protest for 8-hour weekdays (10 to 16-hour weekdays were common then). One of them threw a bomb at the police who were attempting to disperse the crowd, causing the police to open fire at the demonstrators. Seven to eight civilians died as a result, while another 40 were injured. It took another 18 years and more riots in between before 8-hour weekdays were finally legally established. While we now have our 8-hour weekdays, there are still some labour issues closer to our hearts and worth some consideration, such as foreign labour (but please – no strikes!).

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Foreign labour has been one of the hottest topics in coffee shop conversations now, and will probably remain as such in the next few years to come. Foreigners currently make up close to 37% of the labour market in Singapore, where this percentage has been steadily rising for the past five years (see Figure 1). Many locals have been lamenting how foreign labour is taking jobs away from them because foreigners are willing to do the same job at a lower salary, or at the same salary but for longer hours. Locals experience more difficulty in finding work as a result, such that they cry foul over the government’s seemingly lax foreign labour policies. Locals also lament how they are having difficulty earning a living in the very country which they were born and bred in, while the government freely lets in foreign labour to “poach” jobs which should rightfully belong to them.

 

Figure 1 Increasing percentage of foreigners in Singapore’s labour market over the last 5 years. (Percentages calculated from figures as published in the Ministry of Manpower’s website.)

While there is some truth in their complaints, there is another side to the story. Sometimes, employers have no choice but to hire foreign labour. This is because local workers are uninterested in the jobs which employers have to offer, even if offered higher salaries for the same job than their foreign counterparts. For example, it appears that Singaporeans are generally not keen on entering the service industry because they do not enjoy serving others, be it as sales staff or wait staff in food outlets – they would prefer being served by others instead. Foreign workers, on the other hand, have no such qualms and are more willing to take up such jobs. It could also be that there are not enough Singaporeans who are trained in skills which employers are looking for, such that employers have no choice but to look beyond our shores for employees capable of fulfilling the needs of the company.

The government is also taking measures to restrict the entry of foreign labour into Singapore so as to lessen the economy’s reliance on foreign workers for growth. During the Singapore Budget 2013, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced that foreign levies would be increased from next July onwards, with the extents of the increase being higher in sectors experiencing larger growth in the foreign workforce. Foreign worker quotas will also be cut for services and marine sectors, and the qualifying salaries for S-Pass holders will be raised from $2,000 to $2,200 per month so as to equalise the playing field for locals and foreigners with respect to salary.

With the government working to tighten Singapore’s foreign labour policies, locals may be able to rest easier knowing that competition for jobs vis-à-vis foreign workers will be lessened such that they may be able to secure jobs more easily. At the same time, perhaps we should try to be more open to jobs which are traditionally shunned, and also continue to improve on their skills in order to become more employable across sectors. A change in mindset and strategy may be just what is needed in order to secure a decent job.

To all job-seekers: keep searching, and don’t lose hope yet! If you have your eye on a particular job with a certain company, be sure to check out Jobiness for more information on that company to see if it is in line with your career goals. And to all workers: enjoy your Labour Day break – see you back in the office on Thursday.

To read more about the Singapore Budget 2013, click here.

To find out more about the latest government policies regarding foreign labour, click here.

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