Mr Speaker Sir
PSP welcomes the move to introduce workplace fairness legislation to offer protection against discrimination and harassment. In general, we support the plans outlined in the White Paper. There are a few areas we wish to add on.
The participation rate of women in the labour force has been rising over the years. Women have taken on more economic responsibilities, but their share of caregiving and family responsibilities have not been decreasing correspondingly. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if this situation makes marriage and having children more daunting.
As the White Paper correctly pointed out, mindsets on gender roles need to change.
Our current parental leave structure reflects the old mindset that needs to change.
Currently, maternity leave is 16 weeks, paternity leave, 2 weeks, and fathers can share up to 4 weeks of their wives’ maternity leave. With the mothers getting a much longer leave than fathers, it reinforces the idea that childcare is primarily the responsibility of mothers. This is inconsistent with our move to change mindsets on gender roles.
I urge the government to change it to equal shares by default, with flexibility to reallocate parental leave between the couple based on mutual agreement, subject to a minimum period for each parent.
The default equal share of parental leave between the couple underlines the belief that parenthood is a responsibility that should be shared equally by both parents. Equal parental leave would also give less reason for employers to discriminate against female employees.
Various studies have shown the beneficial effect of fathers taking paternity leave and taking on a bigger role in parenting. An NUS study found that children are less likely to have behavioural issues, and fathers experienced reduced conflict, stronger family relationships and increased satisfaction in their marriage. Another study found mothers get improved maternal postpartum-depression outcomes.
However, not all fathers take paternity leave. In 2019, the take-up rate was only 55%. A key reason cited was work culture that does not support the taking of paternity leave. We should therefore look at incentives to employers to provide better work life balance.
Next I will move on to financial support for caregivers.
The Home Caregiving Grant is given to defray cost of caring for persons with disabilities who require assistance in performing 3 or more Activities of Daily Living. This grant is given regardless of whether the caregiver is a paid professional or foreign domestic helper, or an unpaid family member.
Therefore, it is more a financial support for the disabled person, rather than for the caregiver who may have had to give up a full time job.
The same applies to the Senior Mobility and Enabling Fund which subsidises the cost of mobility devices.
Another measure that the Government is changing to improve the retirement adequacy of caregivers is to raise the CPF Top Up tax relief cap from $7000 to $8000. Can MOM provide the number and percentage of caregivers who received CPF Top Up each year and what was the average amount of Top Up? Is this a measure we can rely on to ensure the retirement adequacy of caregivers? If not, would the government consider a scheme where a portion of the monthly CPF contribution of the working spouse is transferred to the caregiving spouse? It is fair for a married couple who share the responsibilities of family and work to also share the rewards.
A third area that I wish to bring up is that of foreign spouses. We would like to see greater transparency in the criteria for residency for foreign spouses. With the implementation of COMPASS, we have moved towards a more transparent model for approval of work passes. A similar move towards transparency on residency criteria for foreign spouses would benefit our citizens worrying over how to ensure long term residency for their foreign spouses and the recurrent cost of visit passes.
There are many good plans in the White Paper. At the end of the day, we need to measure reality. What are the indicators that will be tracked to monitor if we are achieving the objectives stated in the White Paper, and what are the targets set? Setting a target shows our commitment.
For example, we can set a target for female representation on the Board of Directors. Since Statutory Boards and IPCs achieve about 30% female representation, it shows that 30% is a realistic target. Listed companies have a female board representation of under 20%. Will the government commit to setting a target of 30% within 3 years?
Another area that is very important to most women would be the sharing of parenting and caregiving responsibilities. Will the Government be tracking and setting a target for this as well as the utilisation rate of maternity and paternity leave?