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By Lien Hoang
May 5—Singapore will pay fathers to take a second week of paternity leave beginning next year in a bid to drive up one of the five lowest birth rates in the world.
Josephine Teo, senior minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office, announced the change in late April. The government currently pays for one week of paid paternity leave.
“We will legislate a second week of paternity leave for all fathers of Singapore citizen children born from Jan. 1, 2017,” Teo said in a speech, joking: “So if you start now, there is good time.”
Public funds will also cover four weeks of paid leave for mothers and fathers to allocate between themselves, beginning July 1, 2017, up from the one week of shared leave currently provided.
Also beginning next July, women who adopt children under 1 year old will receive 12 weeks of paid time off, instead of the current four. Fathers can share four of those 12 weeks. The government will pay for eight weeks, employers for the remaining four.
Teo took a page from the European playbook, where paid paternity leave of four weeks is provided in Portugal and Lithuania and three weeks in Finland, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Teo said she studied other countries' models and consulted parents and scholars in developing her plan.
Supporters argue that paternity leave promotes gender equality by encouraging men to take more responsibility for child care. Teo argues that such policies are also good for business.
“Audit findings indicate that family-friendly employers with scores in the top quartile had significantly better business outcomes than companies in the bottom quartile: 41 percent lower absentee rates, 32 percent higher motivation rates and 23 percent higher employee productivity,” Teo said, citing a study by Germany's Hertie Foundation.
Assistant law professor Chen Siyuan at Singapore Management University, however, expressed skepticism that employees would take full advantage of the increased leave given the complexity of the law.
“Why is it so difficult to have policies that are immediately digestible?” Chen told Bloomberg BNA April 28, suggesting there's too much minutia in the regulations. “The businesses affected by this paternity leave change would of course have the means to internalize the new law, but if the employees don't know what's going on, then there's no point changing the law.”
A rich nation of 5.5 million people, Singapore had a fertility rate of just 1.24 children per mother in 2015, Teo said. The OECD suggests a replacement rate of 2.1.
To boost this figure, the government has experimented with family-friendly policies on child care, health care, work flexibility and antidiscrimination against pregnant employees. The sovereign wealth fund Temasek has even invested in a dating app.
Under the updated parental policies, Singaporean men could end up spending a total of eight weeks away from the office to raise children. That includes two weeks' paid leave, four weeks' shared leave, six days of child care leave and a week of unpaid infant care leave.
“We hope employers that are in a position to do so start to extend paternity leave even before legislation kicks in so that parents of children born earlier can also benefit,” Teo said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lien Hoang in Ho Chi Minh City at email@example.com
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