HR & EDUCATION | Krisana Gallezo-Estaura, Singapore

How do companies feel about the parental leave?

Chief human resource officers speak about its strengths and flaws.

The government has recently announced new additions to the the Marriage and Parenthood (M&P) Package effective 1 May 2013. Amongst significant changes include the provision of paid paternity leave, shared parental leave, and adoption leave as statutory benefits. Maternity leave was also extended to part-time employees, on a pro rata basis. Other key changes include an extended maternity protection period, which protects a woman from dismissal or retrenchment without cause at any point during her pregnancy, and extended childcare leave provisions. A monetary cap applies to all new and amended provisions.

Singapore Business Review spoke with a couple of chief human resource officer and here are their thoughts:

Bee Bee Tan, Human Resources Manager, IndoChine Group

The shared parental leave may not work, the criteria set out is too complicated. The father has to seek agreement from the mother in order to get a week leave from her 16 weeks maternity leave. Probably the Father may as well apply for a week annual leave. Paper administration of this from a stand point as a HR administrator is time consuming. I am a mother of 2, personally I felt the 16 weeks maternity leave is not sufficient to care for a new born baby. Ideally, a 6 months period could be better. Now the mothers have to share her maternity leave, need to reconsider?

Paid Paternity Leave of 1 week for the father is excellent. I remembered how my husband helped me with the baby when she was born, it was heart warming. There were a lot of stuffs to be done when baby was born. With the funding from the government, this will definitely eased the financial impact of the company. But the company will have to cope with the manpower shortage. If the company has problem to re-assign the 1 week job assignment to someone else, this may discourage the father from taking leave, if he wants to keep his job.

With the various introduction of leave types, when a few staffs applied for these leave of absence at the same time, company will need to cope with the job allocation of responsibilities may be too overwhelming, not to mentioned the paperwork involved. I cannot tell my employees since she is pregnant, the rest of you please do not get pregnant until she has given birth!

Alicia Chin, Human Resource Manager, Nuance-Watson (Singapore) 

The recent announcement on the various maternity, parenthood and child care leave such as the provision of paid paternity leave which the Part-timers also enjoy on pro-rata basis, extended childcare leave and shared parental leave, was lauded by many , in particular the female employees. Certainly, this time round the other half, husbands also welcome the new measures as they have long felt that their roles have been neglected. One interesting and other significant key change includes an extended maternity protection period, which protects a woman from dismissal or retrenchment without cause at any point during her pregnancy. Companies who have always abided by the principles of fair employment and adopt the recommended good practices should have no cause for worry for this extended maternity protection period. Only very few non-performing female and errant ones will take advantage of this extended protection and abuse the maternity benefits.
From the employer's perspective, I would see as a challenge now will be that of a share maternity leave as there are no clear guidelines as to how such benefit is to carry out and be verified. My concern will be that of too much complexity in the administration aspect.

Mohd Dzulqhilfly, General Manager HR, Sime Darby Singapore

In my 30 years experience in managing HR in developed and developing countries I have seen a range of measures taken by Govts to raise falling birth rates as countries become more affluent. Whilst these measures make it easier for working parents to bear and raise children they seldom significantly improve the birth rates. In countries which have been successful in maintaining birth rates there are more than financial incentives. Besides such measures introduced in Spore Govts must create the right values and culture so that bearing and raising children are celebrated/ recognized as a mission to be achieved by the nation. The recognition must go beyond financial incentives. Otherwise more incentives would be needed and the cost for employers and the country would be too high.

Kim Seng Tan, HR Manager, JVC Electronics Singapore

The latest M&P package is a very bold but cautious move by the government to tackle the low fertility rate problem. It is a very balanced approach trying to let people to have more babies and at the same time to minimize the impact on the business. At this point in time, the government is bold enough to deviate a little from its pro-business policies because they know that by legislating more leave policies, it will affect the absentee hours and that may not be good for businesses.

The latest M&P may have an impact on the business. The last M&P package only affect female employees but now with the paternity and shared parental leave included, it affect the male employees as well. Business may have to rewrite their policies but somehow I do feel it may affect more the SMEs rather than the MNCs. I believe most MNCs may have such parental leave scheme, it is just an add-on. SMEs, with fewer workers, may feel the pinch if any of their workers is on leave.

The M&P package may be a good incentive scheme but somehow there is an indirect cost to the business. A great deal of admin work is required to claim the reimbursement. Forms have to be filled and HR has to keep track of such leave. More work hours are needed and I don’t think SMEs could afford that.

Amanda CHUA, HR Director, Thales Solutions Asia

I think the government has taken great steps and initiatives to drive parenthood-friendly environment. From the perspective of an employee benefiting from those intiatives, I would say "Is great" ! Having said that, I am not sure how much that will impact or encourage a change of mindset for Singaporean to have more babies ! Are we tackling the right root-cause ?

From the perspective of an employer, I would say that it certainly brings about some level of competitive disadvantage. Although the government is tying financial support to the initiatives, there are still real cost that impacts the organisation in terms of productive hours, downtime from absent hours and other non-qualitative impact to the operations. Being a country with no natural resources, one of the factor that Singapore has an advantage over our neighbouring countries is, we have a very skilled and productive workforce. To be able to leverage on this advantage, we have to remain competitive despite the rising labour costs.

It is always easy to comment and criticise from an individual perspective but balancing the "bigger" picture is certainly a challenge too. Competitiveness is key in every game field else we will be out of the game in no time!

Dolly Ng, Human Resources Manager, Foo Kon Tan Grant Thornton

It is a good thing the Singapore Government is providing new parenthood leave to enhance pro-family and shared parental leave. The enhanced childcare leave for parents of child between the age of 7 to 12 years would significantly help working parents cope with children of these ages. I believe the shift in paradigm of providing paternity leave of one week will encourage fathers to play a pro-active role in taking care of babies as this has always been seen as the role of mothers who are generally the main care-givers.

It is generous of the Government to be funding this and helping companies to encourage young families cope and adopt a pro-family lifestyle and at the same time motivate staff. These initiatives help to encourage working mothers to stay in the workforce longer than after birth of the child.

Personally I feel that most staff who qualify for the above will plan their leave and not abuse them. In fact it will motivate them further and encourage them to go the extra mile for the company that support leave benefits.

Brenton Ong, Human Resources Manager, Concorde Hotel Singapore

While I am supportive of the government’s objective to increase the fertility rate, I personally do not see the direct linkage between these measures and fertility rate. However, from an employer’s perspective, these enhancements in maternity, paternity and childcare provisions would further intensify the pressure on the existing workforce resulting in disruption in operations, reduced productivity, increased turnover, and higher operating costs. Given the current government stand on reducing foreign labour dependency, employers are given little option but to restructure operations, redesign jobs, and implement technology in order to stay in business. The primary concerns to employers, particularly the SMEs, are therefore related to timing and cost. As these measures are mandated immediately, employers do not have the luxury of time or budget to take appropriate actions. Ideally, the government should relax the tightening of foreign workers and freeze the foreign worker levy for a grace period of say, three years, to grant employers sufficient time to automate, innovate or restructure their operations, whilst the enhanced maternal and paternal provisions are in operation.

Pat Tian KOH, HR Vice President, TÜV SÜD PSB

The new parental leave benefits introduced recently include enhanced child care leave, paid paternity leave, shared parental leave, adoption leave, and enhanced protection of maternity leave. On a national level, I feel the key change is actually in the paternity leave as it formally recognizes the significant role that fathers play in parenting. Unlike in the past, many fathers today want to be more actively involved in the upbringing of their children. The additional parental leaves will enable them to take more time off to spend and bond with their children. The actual number of such leave days that will be taken, however, remains to be seen. I suspect some will be hesitant to take the additional leave if they feel it may affect their career or performance assessment or if they work in a company that is not seen as supportive of work-life balance.
Government policies can only do so much. A large part still depends on the company and the individual. A company that takes the long term interest of their employees into consideration and have a robust work-life harmony framework in place will probably have a more significant impact on the number of children and the parenting practices of their employees than what legislation can do. Such companies are more likely to be able to attract and retain employees (especially those planning to have a family) as they will be more supportive of employees taking parental leave and will exercise more flexibility in terms of time off and flexible work arrangements.

Andrew Phuang Shi Chen,  Human Resources Manager - Region Far East, DORMA

The new Marriage and Parenthood (M&P) Package, aimed at supporting a Pro-Family environment in Singapore would impact 70% of our employees (age below 40 years old).

The program shows a clear paradigm shift on government strategy from being Pro-Business to Pro-Family. This suggests that our government is stepping back, to reflects on various social issues/needs. This is a positive notion as such reflections would sometimes provide new perspective in the greater scheme of things.

Parenthood plays a part in the personal development of employees. This program not only highlights the government's focus on it, it also enhances our current benefits on paternity and maternity leave.

The program would impact the organization in terms of disruption in operations, down-time and higher operating costs, however these impact would not be critical to any organization. The transition would be smoother if employers are being communicated in advance.This program is currently 100% funded by the government. If future funding are to be shouldered by the employers, that would increase our operating cost. On the other hand, if the program funding would lead to higher corporate tax rate, that would make Singapore less attractive to conduct business in. These long terms impact would need to be carefully considered before deciding on the long term approach of the program.

In terms of how it affects me personally, as part of the 70% employees that may benefit from this program, I welcome it with open arms. But would it affect my decision to have children or will it encourage me to have children earlier? Sorry but No."

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