I applaud the new legislation on paternity care leave to address the country’s low birth rate and mindsets about family care. This is a first step towards greater worklife balance and productivity for Singaporean employees. It would also benefit Singapore’s ongoing efforts to promote gender equality and shared responsibilities between couples at home.
What is urgently needed to improve things further is the introduction of mandatory eldercare leave.
For the past few years, Members of Parliament such as Halimah Yacob, Cheng Li Hui and Workers’ Party Lee Lilian have called for mandatory eldercare leave in Singapore. The purpose of this leave is to enable children to take time-off to take care of their elderly parents or family members when they are ill.
Firstly, this policy is needed to help the younger generation better cope with the Singapore’s ageing population.
To illustrate this point, I would like to share my personal experiences. Currently, about 7 aunties and uncles in my family share the responsibility of taking care of my grandparents. They each take time off their busy work schedule to accompany my grandparents to their medical appointments and care for them when they are sick.
However, over time, as the number of children per set of parents declines, the responsibility of caring for one’s parents would be split among fewer children. Singaporeans of my generation will be under even more pressure than the present Generation X to balance caring for our elderly parents and children at the same time.
Having an eldercare leave would also improve our work life balance.
According to several studies, Singaporeans already work some of the longest hours in the world among developed countries. Ministry of Manpower (MOM) statistics have also showed that almost 60 percent of our full-time employees here currently get a miserable 14 days of annual leave or fewer. In fact, 50 per cent of Singaporeans do not spend sufficient quality time with their family due to long working hours.
By legislating eldercare leave, we would not only alleviate the burden for our younger generation but also support national goals such as increase in birthrates and to build strong resilient families in Singapore.
While some may argue that Singaporeans could simply hire a maid to take care of their ageing parents, I do not believe this is a good solution.
First of all, not everyone can afford a domestic helper to care for their elderly parents. Also, if you were old and unwell, would you like a maid whom you don’t even speak a common language with to take you to the clinic or your own children?
Some also believe strongly that we should leave it to companies to decide on their own. I disagree. Many local bosses still care immensely about face-time at work.
Many firms tend to focus more on profit maximization over the welfare of their workers. There is little incentive for them to offer eldercare leave out of their own good will. This can be clearly seen from the results of a recent survey by the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) which revealed that only 4 percent of firms in Singapore provided eldercare leave. Thus, non-market intervention is necessary to protect our employees.
While many have expressed valid concerns about the abuse of this benefit by lazy employees, I believe there is a workaround solution. The company could request supporting materials such as medical receipts and letters from the clinics and hospitals, just like how workers give birth certificates to justify maternity and paternity leave.
If we can have maternity and paternity care leave, why not extend this to elder care leave too? I believe that doing so will definitely send a strong message that the next generation is just as important as the generation who gave their lives to make a better Singapore for us.
What are your thoughts about this policy? Share your ideas with me in the comments below.