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Singapore Government

Opening And Closing Speeches By Minister Of State Sun Xueling At The Second Reading Of The Child Development Co-Savings (Amendment) Bill

Opening And Closing Speeches By Minister Of State Sun Xueling At The Second Reading Of The Child Development Co-Savings (Amendment) Bill

OPENING SPEECH

Mdm Deputy Speaker, on behalf of the Minister for Social and Family Development, I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a Second Time.

Madam, families are the foundation of our society. They are the first environment in which children are nurtured, and where they experience love and where values are inculcated. Every parent knows that parenthood has its challenges, yet every parent also knows the joys it brings. The Government is consistent in its approach to supporting couples and as couples embark on their parenting journey, we are here to support them and their family.

We have consistently reviewed our policies over the years to strengthen family ties, particularly between parent and child. We have made considerable strides. But we recognise that family formation is a personal decision. Our measures can only go so far as to address practical obstacles or financial concerns that many parents worry about. An overall eco-system, which includes family members, community partners, employers and Government measures, is needed to support parents on their journey.

We remain committed in encouraging people to get married, have children, and to raise them in strong families. The Child Development Co-Savings Act (CDCA) was first introduced in 2001. It has been 20 years. Over the years, we have increased coverage and introduced new schemes under the CDCA as part of a holistic suite of measures that families can tap on. The CDCA now covers the Child Development Account (CDA) and parental leave schemes, with respect to citizen children. Many today will know the CDA as part of the commonly known Baby Bonus scheme.

In 2008, the CDCA was amended to extend maternity leave from 12 weeks to 16 weeks, childcare leave from two to six days, and to introduce six days of unpaid infant care leave. In 2013, one week of shared parental leave and paternity leave were introduced. We kept in mind that the economy could evolve and support could be extended to a wider group of parents, including those not on regular employment. Hence, the Government-Paid Maternity Benefits scheme was introduced for mothers who were either employed or self-employed, but not for the minimum continuous three-month period to qualify for maternity leave. These mothers could be on short-term contracts, or on contracts which expired just before they gave birth. In 2017, we also made it mandatory for employers to grant two weeks of Paternity Leave and increased Shared Parental Leave from one week to up to four weeks.

As a whole, working couples today can take up to 20 weeks of paid parental leave in the child's first year, comprising 16 weeks of maternity leave, two weeks of paternity leave and six days of childcare leave per parent. This is the result of continuous policy reviews over the years.

We have also made enhancements on other fronts. The maximum dollar-for-dollar Government co-matching of parents' savings in the CDA for the second child born from 1 January 2021 was doubled earlier this year, from $3,000 to $6,000. This is in addition to the CDA First Step Grant of $3,000 introduced in 2016, that is paid into the CDA when it is opened, without parents having to contribute first. To reassure couples to proceed with their parenthood plans despite the global pandemic, the Government also implemented the one-off Baby Support Grant of $3,000 for Singaporean children born from 1 October 2020 to 30 September 2022.

The environment that Singaporeans work, live and raise families has evolved. MSF has proposed amendments to the CDCA to bolster our support for citizen children and their working parents, as well as employers, in this changing environment. We continue to encourage parenthood within marriage and our proposed amendments also ensure that our operational processes are robust and that there is accountability over public monies even as additional benefits are included and extended.

I now draw the House's attention to the key components in the Child Development Co-Savings (Amendment) Bill, of which there are seven. 

One, Government-Paid Paternity and Adoption Benefits. As announced in February this year, we will be introducing two new schemes. Some working fathers and adoptive mothers may not qualify for paternity leave or adoption leave under the CDCA respectively owing to their employment arrangements. They may be on multiple short-term contracts, or had their contracts expire shortly before the birth or adoption of their child. Clauses 13 and 26 therefore legislate the new Government-Paid Paternity and Adoption Benefits schemes, or GPPB and GPAB, under which such parents can qualify. The new schemes are not unprecedented. Already, working mothers can be eligible for the existing Government-Paid Maternity Benefits scheme, or GPMB in short, and we are extending this to working fathers and adoptive mothers.

A father can be eligible for GPPB if his child's date of birth or estimated date of delivery is on or after 1 January 2021. Adoptive parents can benefit from GPPB and GPAB if their application to adopt a child is submitted to the Court on or after 1 January 2021. In the case of a foreign child, we will refer to the date on which the dependant's pass is issued.

With the new schemes, parents can receive a cash benefit in lieu of the Government-paid portion of paternity leave or adoption leave. The parent must have worked as an employee or self-employed person, or both, for at least 90 days in the 12 months immediately preceding the child's date of birth or the eligibility date for an adopted child. The total cash pay-out will be calculated based on the average income earned in the same 12-month period, as prescribed in subsidiary legislation. Therefore, parents who work for longer periods will receive a higher benefit.

As further amendments need to be made to subsidiary legislation, eligible parents may apply for the new GPPB and GPAB schemes from 1 December 2021. We estimate that around 500 working fathers and adoptive mothers will benefit. Though this number is small, it remains important to ensure that these parents are supported in raising their children.

Two, assisting parents whose contracts expire, or who are retrenched. Even as we introduce the new GPPB and GPAB schemes, they are not intended to replace the existing schemes for paternity leave and adoption leave respectively. Generally, these schemes are mutually exclusive and parents will not be able to qualify for both leave and benefit schemes simultaneously. The majority of parents will qualify under the relevant leave schemes as they remain employed.

However, there is one existing exception. The CDCA allows for a GPMB top-up to be given to a mother whose contract expires while she is on maternity leave. An eligible mother may have started her maternity leave, but could not consume all of it before her contract expired due to the lack of time. Such mothers can receive cash benefits for the remaining Government-paid portion of leave, which the Government would have reimbursed their employers had the leave not been forfeited.

With the new GPAB and GPPB schemes, we will extend this to working fathers and adoptive mothers in similar situations. They, too, will be eligible for a benefits top-up.

My Ministry has also proposed to introduce an additional exception, to assist working parents. We know that some parents may be retrenched, and have to give up their remaining leave. Clauses 8(m), 13 and 26 will address this, by granting a benefit top-up to retrenched parents who did not manage to take their leave. This leave would also have been otherwise forfeited. This will help provide greater assurances to parents, as we know that retrenchments are beyond their control.

Let me be clear that these top-ups will not affect existing protections for female employees who are pregnant, as they should not be denied their maternity leave benefits by the termination of their employment. These protections are provided for under the Employment Act.

Employers will have to pay maternity leave benefits to pregnant employees who have worked for their employers for at least three months, if their employment is terminated without sufficient cause, or if they are retrenched at any stage of their pregnancy. It is an offence to dismiss employees while they are on maternity leave. It is also an offence for employers to withhold parental leave from working parents.

Three, supporting parents of stillborn children. The proposed Bill will allow working parents of a stillborn child, who would have been a Singapore Citizen, to qualify for birth-linked Government-Paid Leave and Benefits Schemes – which are maternity leave and benefits, paternity leave and benefits, as well as shared parental leave.

We appreciate that many employers have been voluntarily granting paid leave to such parents as employers play a key role in fostering family friendly workplaces in Singapore. Generally, we have supported this by granting reimbursement to them. The Bill will now entitle parents of stillborn children to the relevant schemes. Parents of stillborn children need to recover physically and emotionally, and this move can help them in these difficult times.

The Government-paid portion of certain schemes also vary with the number of live citizen children a mother has; these are the maternity and adoption leave and benefit schemes. For instance, mothers with one or two children who are eligible for maternity leave receive eight weeks of employer-paid leave and eight weeks of Government-paid leave. From the third child, all 16 weeks of maternity leave under the CDCA are paid for by the Government.

In addition to the above entitlement to leave and benefits, clause 2(1)(h) will count stillborn children or deceased children in determining the number of children a mother has had. Depending on whether they are entitled for leave or benefits schemes, including them in the child order determination will allow more employers and working mothers to receive a higher quantum of reimbursement or payment. We hope that this will go some way to help mothers and also encourage employers to be more supportive of working mothers with more children.

Four, reimbursement to employers who voluntarily grant leave to employees for parental leave schemes. Employers are one of our main partners in developing a Singapore that is Made for Families. The support from employers is crucial, especially when their employees take on new roles as parents.

I am heartened to say that many employers have gone the extra mile and allowed employees to benefit from the parental leave schemes, even if the employees have not worked the minimum of three months continuously preceding the birth or adoption of their child to qualify for leave, which is one of the eligibility criteria under the CDCA.

We recognise that progressive employers play an important part in helping working parents, who are also new to their companies. To this end, clauses 10(b), 17(b), and 28(b) give the Government the discretion to reimburse employers if they grant paid maternity leave, paternity leave, and adoption leave, respectively, even though the three-month criterion under the CDCA is not satisfied. The parent must still meet all other eligibility criteria mentioned in the Bill, such as having a child who is a Singapore citizen.

I must emphasise that there is no change to a parent’s entitlement. Legislatively, the minimum work criterion is there as a safeguard for employers who also bear some costs. Nonetheless, some employers provide leave for employees out of goodwill and can continue to do so of their own volition. The amendments are only intended to give my Ministry more latitude to reimburse these progressive employers.

Five, disqualify wed/unwed fathers from paid childcare leave and unpaid infant care leave, in respect of children born from extramarital affairs.

Over the years, significant steps have been taken to ensure that every child is cared for and supported in his or her development. The CDCA was last amended to extend maternity leave and the CDA, including the CDA First Step Grant and matched co-savings from the Government, to single unwed parents in 2017 and 2016 respectively. Earlier in 2013, we had also extended paid childcare leave and unpaid infant care leave under the CDCA to support parents in their caregiving responsibilities. Our approach is to enable all Singaporean children and their parents to receive Government benefits that are intended to support the children’s growth and development. Nonetheless, the desired social norm in Singapore remains parenthood within marriage. These have been our policy considerations.

However, we have found that parents could also consume childcare leave and unpaid infant care leave with respect to children born as a result of extramarital affairs. This was not the policy intent. Our marriage and parenthood policies are intended to safeguard the family institution, and not to condone extramarital affairs.

With the above in mind, the amendments laid out in clauses 18(c) and (f), and 21(b) disqualify wed and unwed fathers from paid childcare leave and unpaid infant care leave under the CDCA, with respect to children born from extramarital affairs. Gestational mothers will retain their entitlement to paid childcare leave and unpaid infant care leave to avoid unduly compromising a child’s well-being, given that mothers are usually the main caregivers. If the birth parents subsequently marry, the father will become eligible for childcare leave in respect of the child. All other single unwed fathers whose children are not born out of extramarital affairs continue to be eligible for paid childcare leave and unpaid infant care leave.

Six, disqualify mothers who have consumed maternity leave under the Employment Act (EA) from GPMB. I mentioned earlier that parents will not be able to qualify for both leave and benefit schemes simultaneously, with certain exceptions. Clause 8(l) will ensure that this treatment is equally applied to both mothers of children who are citizens from birth, and those who are new citizens.

To elaborate, mothers of non-citizen children can qualify for maternity leave under the Employment Act. Should the child subsequently gain citizenship within one year of the child’s birth, a mother could then qualify for GPMB under the CDCA, if she meets the eligibility criteria. In contrast, a mother of a citizen child would not be able to receive both paid leave and benefits simultaneously under the CDCA, except in certain cases as earlier mentioned.

The proposed amendment will ensure parity between different groups of working mothers, such that those in similar circumstances benefit equally from the maternity leave and benefits provisions under the CDCA.

Seven, amendments to improve checks and accountability. Finally, the Bill proposes amendments at clause 32 to improve checks, and ensure public accountability. First, the amendments will give my Ministry power to carry out audits, or require audits to be conducted.

Second, we will expand our powers to recover erroneous payments through clauses 6 and 30. Our powers to clawback are currently limited to payments made by mistake of fact, or due to false or misleading information or documents furnished. The amendment will allow the Government to also recover payments that were made due to any error; and this could include, for example, errors caused by an electronic system used by the Government to determine claims or made by any person. The Government will also be able to deduct the amount from subsequent claims with respect to the same parent.

For CDA benefits, the Government may deduct or setoff the amount to be recovered from future Baby Bonus benefits payable to the relevant child. We will also be able to recover directly from persons who caused the erroneous payments and clawback from CDA trustees or approved persons in the event of unauthorised withdrawals from the CDA. 

Just as benefits have been progressively expanded over the years, checks and balances must also correspondingly be updated. These amendments ensure that we continue to exercise rigorous oversight over the various schemes provided for under the CDCA, and bolster accountability over how public monies are utilised.

Madam, our intent is for the proposed amendments to further support a Singaporean couple’s decision to start, raise and grow their family. We are committed to this cause and have worked to ensure that our policies keep pace with and reflect our desired values. We want to ensure that parents are supported in their journey.

Nonetheless, the Government cannot be alone in doing so. Legislation is an insufficient and blunt tool for policies to support parents in child-raising, as families have differing needs. Equally important are employers, who can create conducive environments for employees to work and have their families. We are glad to see many have implemented family-friendly practices and I urge others to follow their lead. In addition, the extended family and the community can also pitch in to support families, especially when they are bringing up young children.

My Ministry will continue to work with our community partners, such as the Families for Life (FFL) movement so that strong family relations can be fostered. A whole-of-society effort is required, and we will continue to support Singaporeans in this journey. Mdm Deputy Speaker, I beg to move.

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CLOSING SPEECH

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. To all Members who have spoken on the Bill, I am grateful for your support of the Bill and the queries raised. Many of us continue to place emphasis on ensuring an environment that supports families. We are united in this effort.

Many Members also recognised that it is a complex task to balance the many interests and considerations at hand when it comes to decisions on whether new policies should be introduced and if enhancements should be made to existing schemes. Some have alluded to the many factors at play and I am glad that they appreciate the balance the Government must strike. We have to safeguard taxpayers' monies and allocate as fairly as we can, knowing that any policy decision made has an indelible impact across multiple stakeholders. Let me touch on the points raised in turn.

Members, such as Ms Carrie Tan, Ms Yeo Wan Ling, Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin, Mr Louis Ng, Mr Yip Hon Weng and Mr Desmond Choo, have suggested that more could be done for single unwed parents. I respect their views and I thank Member Louis Ng for sharing what I had said in Parliament before. Over the years, all Government benefits that support the care-giving, growth and development of children have been equalised.

I had highlighted in my opening speech the suite of measures that all Singaporean children can access. These include subsidies in healthcare, education, childcare and infant care, as well as the MediSave Grant for Newborns, MediShield Life coverage from birth and the Foreign Domestic Worker Levy Concession. In 2016, we further extended the Child Development Account (CDA) to children of single unwed parents, which includes the CDA First Step Grant and matched co-savings from the Government. In 2017, we extended support to unwed mothers for maternity leave under the CDCA. For unwed fathers who are the main care-givers of their children, MSF also evaluates their requests for paternity leave on a case-by-case basis.

Members have also raised that more benefits could be extended to single unwed parents. Single unwed parents who require further help can approach our Social Service Offices and Family Service Centres.

For other benefits, such as the Baby Bonus Cash Gift and parenthood-related tax benefits, these continue to be targeted to encourage parenthood within marriage. We acknowledge Members' concerns about single unwed parents and we will do what we can to support them based on their needs. I also hope to assure Members that, together with other agencies, we regularly review how we can better support them.

For single unwed parents who require further support, they can also look to the SPIN programme, S-P-I-N, which can help improve their access to information and resources.

Ms Carrie Tan shared that there was a need to look into better enforcement of child support payments so as to reiterate that accountability to a child is independent of marital status. The Member will be happy to note that the duty of a parent to maintain his or her child is already provided for under the Women's Charter, regardless whether the child is legitimate or illegitimate. Unwed mothers are, therefore, already able to apply to the Court for maintenance of a child from the father.

Ms Carrie Tan and Mr Gan Thiam Poh also shared that some low-income parents may not be able to fully maximise the co-matching feature of the CDA. This feature first requires parents to deposit into the CDA to receive Government co-matching, which may be challenging for some low-income parents who may not have the means to set aside enough to save into the CDA. In 2016, we introduced the CDA First Step Grant, which is a $3,000 deposit when the CDA is opened, without parents having to save first. This is granted to all Singaporean children, regardless of their parents' marital or income status. I am glad that some community partners have also stepped forward to help families save more into the CDA by making deposits into the accounts of children from low-income families. These contributions will qualify for Government co-matching and we encourage them to continue to do so.

The Government also provides ad-hoc top-ups to the CDA. For example, as part of the Household Support Package announced at Budget this year, all Singaporean children aged six and under in 2021 will receive a $200 top-up to their CDA from September this year. The CDA remains open for 12 years. Therefore, parents have a substantial amount of time to deposit money into the CDA to maximise the co-matching caps and should plan to do so at their own pace.

Assoc Prof Jamus Lim has asked why there are no legislative provisions to clearly set out the interest rates that apply to the CDA. We welcome his wholehearted endorsement of the CPF and its very generous, risk-free returns.

The CDA's interest rates are determined by banks but have, generally, been higher than a normal savings account. On top of this, despite the CDA being a bank account, the Government provides co-matching. Monies in the CDA are intended to support the child's growth and development during their early years, in contrast to the CPF, which helps support Singaporeans in their retirement years. And parents are able to withdraw from the CDA, as needed, to defray educational and healthcare expenses at approved institutions, as compared to the CPF.

There are dedicated schemes that low-income families can turn to, if they need social assistance and such families can approach our Social Service Offices (SSOs), which stand ready to render help. Our SSOs will assess their households' needs and circumstances and provide assistance accordingly. For instance, families who require support with their basic living expenses can receive ComCare financial assistance if they meet the criteria, and SSOs may also refer families to other Government agencies and community partners, such as Family Service Centres, for further support.

Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked that we consider waiving the employment criterion for Leave and Benefits schemes, in consideration of stay-at-home parents. For example, a cash grant could be given to a stay-at-home parent. The Leave and Benefits schemes are meant to support working parents in managing their work and care-giving responsibilities, without having to leave the workforce.

Nonetheless, we value the contributions of stay-at-home parents, as they too play a fundamental role in nurturing the next generation of Singaporeans. As such, we have put in place other support schemes that Singaporean children and their families can receive regardless of their parents' working status, including the Baby Bonus Scheme, the MediSave Grant for Newborns and the Foreign Domestic Worker Levy Concession.

One of the Government's key priorities is to ensure that parents have access to quality and affordable pre-schools for their children. To this end, we have significantly increased the number of full-day places, from about 120,000 in 2015 to around 190,000 today, an increase of over 50%. To answer Mr Yip Hon Weng's query, in spite of the COVID-19 situation, we are on track to grow the number of full-day places to over 200,000 by 2023.

Mr Yip Hon Weng also asked about the accessibility of pre-school places for parents who have switched to hybrid or remote working. Today, almost 70% of all childcare centres and over 95% of Anchor Operator childcare centres are located in residential estates, as families have generally expressed a preference for childcare services close to their homes.

Going forward, we will continue to build more pre-school places in tandem with upcoming HDB developments where there are more new families. ECDA closely monitors local pre-school enrolment and availability, and regularly reviews its plans. Should local demand shift and exceed earlier expectations, ECDA would work with pre-schools and HDB to look into activating more void deck and communal spaces for centre extensions, where available.

Members such as Ms Carrie Tan, Mr Saktiandi Supaat, Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin and Mr Yip Hon Weng have asked for clarity on the application process and how claims and payouts under the Government-Paid Leave Schemes and Benefits are assessed. In particular, Ms Carrie Tan and Mr Saktiandi Supaat have asked how self-employed persons' leave claims are assessed.

Let me first address Mr Saktiandi Supaat's query on how we define self-employed persons, which relates to how we assess their claims. Broadly, a self-employed man or woman is a resident of Singapore who engages in or carries on any trade, business, profession or vocation other than employment under a contract of service and derives income from such trade, business, profession or vocation. Freelancers and gig workers fall within this definition, as do delivery drivers.

To be clear, self-employed persons can qualify for payment under either the Leave or Benefits schemes. Their employment arrangement is the one that will determine which scheme they qualify under. 

To Ms Carrie Tan's queries on how self-employed parents' leave claims are assessed, and Mr Yip Hon Weng's query on whether the application and approval processes are automated, let me illustrate with an example. Self-employed mothers can submit maternity leave claims at MSF's "profamilyleave" website. They have to provide basic information, such as their personal particulars and their child's, as well as their occupation and period of inactivity from work. To avoid over-burdening applicants, we require only critical information to enable assessment. In most cases, they do not need to submit documents at this point of application but are required to declare that the information provided is accurate. We have automated the process, as much as possible.

We will verify against available data in the Government database that the eligibility criteria are met, for example, that the applicant's child is a Singapore citizen. If eligible, the applicant will be entitled to payment from the Government for the Government-paid portion of leave, based on one's lost income as capped by the limits set out in legislation. In determining the amount, we will look at the relevant Notice of Assessment, which is prescribed in the subsidiary legislation. For self-employed parents without a Notice of Assessment, I can assure Members that MSF will consider other documents which can serve as proof of income to facilitate our assessment. These could include bank statements, contracts for services or invoices.

Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin asked about the application process for the new Government-Paid Paternity Benefit (GPPB) and the Government-Paid Adoption Benefit (GPAB) schemes. Mr Saktiandi Supaat also asked about the application process for parents who have been retrenched but have unconsumed leave and want to apply for a benefits top-up.

Generally, the application process is similar to an application under the existing Government-Paid Maternity Benefits scheme, which is done at MSF's "profamilyleave" website. Parents will need to submit all their employment contracts for the period of 12 months immediately preceding their child's date of birth or eligibility date for an adopted child and their payslips for the employments or the latest Notice of Assessment. They will also need to submit the retrenchment letter. The amount that a parent receives will be derived from the average income earned over the 12 months preceding the child's date of birth or eligibility date for an adopted child.

For parents who require more details and fellow Members who meet residents with these queries, I encourage you to visit the "profamilyleave" website, which has information on the eligibility criteria, application procedures and payment for the various schemes. MSF is also happy to render assistance to parents who require help in navigating the process.

Mr Gam Thiam Poh raised a good point that we do not want self-employed persons to be left out. I hope that my explanation will re-assure working parents who are self-employed, that they too should apply for the Leave and Benefits schemes.

To Mr Gan Thiam Poh's point that the amounts reimbursed to employers or paid out in the form of benefits may vary from person to person, this is correct. For employees on the leave schemes, they will continue to receive their salaries for the duration of their leave and for the Government-paid portion, this would be subject to the reimbursement caps. For those who do not qualify for leave but are eligible for the benefits schemes, they will receive a payout from the Government equivalent to the Government-paid portion of leave, pro-rated based on their economic activity in the 12 months preceding the child's date of birth, or the eligibility date for an adopted child.

The more a parent has worked in the 12 months before the birth of the child or eligibility date for an adopted child, the more benefits he or she will be eligible for. Our Leave and Benefits schemes are intended to support bona fide working parents and therefore, the support granted will differ based on the parent's employment arrangement and economic activity.

Mr Gan Thiam Poh has also requested for additional data on the various schemes. While having more data-points will bolster our understanding of family needs, as a general principle, MSF does not require information for claims and applications above and beyond what is necessary to determine eligibility and entitlement. This avoids burdening employers and working parents excessively. For instance, household income is not needed to determine the quantum of Baby Bonus benefits, as the scheme does not vary with income. Likewise, we also do not require parents to submit information about the number of children they have when processing claims for Leave and Benefits schemes that do not vary with the birth order. Parents also need not submit information on other grants that they have received.

In this regard, we seek the Member's understanding that we must balance the need for policy review with making our claim and application processes citizen-centric and efficient.

Mr Saktiandi Supaat requested for the GPPB and GPAB application date of 1 December 2021 to be brought forward. I seek the Member's understanding that we require time to make the necessary amendments to subsidiary legislation and to also enhance the IT system to support the schemes. 

Ms Yeo Wan Ling has suggested a review of current schemes to better reflect the principle of shared parental duties, such as through the extension of Working Mother's Child Relief (WMCR) and Grandparent Care-giver Relief (GCR) to fathers. These schemes aim to encourage married women to continue working after childbirth, rather than provide general assistance to families. Families can benefit from other parenthood-related tax benefits, such as Qualifying Child Relief (QCR) and Parenthood Tax Rebate (PTR). She also suggested that exclusive, non-transferrable parental leave be equalised between mothers and fathers.

Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin stated that more exclusive paternity leave would be a strong signal, so that couples do not have to make tough decisions. Mr Louis Ng has also asked for a phased increase of paternity leave. We know that children benefit from having involved fathers who are committed to their growth and development. Today, fathers can already benefit from a series of leave enhancements made over the years.

Most recently, in 2017, we made the second week of paternity leave mandatory and shared parental leave was extended from one to four weeks. In total, fathers may take up to eight weeks of leave in the child’s first year, which they can use to spend time with both mother and child.

Active fatherhood is on the rise. Over the years, paternity leave take-up has increased markedly. In 2013, only 25% of fathers took up paternity leave. In 2019, the proportion has increased to a healthy 55%. The introduction of GPPB is also a recognition of the Government's support for fathers who may be in less conventional working arrangements. 

Despite these improvements, there is still some way to go. I encourage more fathers to take their leave, but in order for fathers to do so, mindsets will have to shift and this can only happen over time.

One key contributor is whether fathers feel supported in the workplace and I encourage employers to implement more family-friendly practices like flexible working arrangements. I assure Mr Louis Ng that MSF is often in close consultation with our community partners, such as the Families for Life or the Centre for Fathering, which drives the Dads for Life movement to encourage active fathering. MSF takes the building of strong marriages and families seriously. We will continue to push through this effort with our partners.

Mr Louis Ng and Mr Yip Hon Weng have asked for leave to be extended to couples who suffer miscarriages, as they will need to recover. Mr Louis Ng, in particular, suggested that the Government could extend partial reimbursement to employers who provide leave benefits to couples who have a miscarriage.

I understand the Members' concern, as miscarriages are unfortunate events. Today, working mothers who need to recuperate after a miscarriage are given medical leave. These working mothers can also use their annual leave and some companies may also offer compassionate leave. 

The Bill takes reference from the Registration of Births and Deaths Act (RBDA), in defining a stillbirth as one occurring after the 28th week of pregnancy. As the Member is aware, the new RBDA was recently passed in Parliament. A stillborn child is now defined to mean a child delivered after the 22nd week of pregnancy. When the new RBDA comes into effect, the CDCA will also take on this interpretation. Parents will become eligible for birth-linked leave and benefits if their child is stillborn after the 22nd week of pregnancy.

I agree with Mr Saktiandi Supaat and Mr Yip Hon Weng, that families require further support as they recover physically and emotionally from the loss of a child, whether through a stillbirth or a miscarriage. We encourage families in need to seek help. Families may also approach Family Service Centres for support on socio-emotional issues.

Assoc Prof Jamus Lim has asked whether shared parental leave could be extended to fathers who have also experienced a stillbirth. I thank the Member for sharing his stories and my heart goes out to him and his family.

I would like to clarify that shared parental leave will be extended to these fathers if their wives have elected to share the leave. They will also be entitled to paternity leave and GPPB.

To the Member's query as to whether an adoptive father qualifies for leave and benefits, currently, paternity leave applies to both biological and adoptive fathers. Adoptive fathers will also qualify for the new GPPB scheme.

Assoc Prof Jamus Lim also suggested that more leave could be extended to parents who have stillbirths above and beyond the current maternity leave provisions. Some companies may also offer compassionate leave over and beyond these entitlements.

Ms Joan Pereira has also called for additional leave for parents with multiple births, as they may face increased care-giving responsibilities. Ms Yeo Wan Ling asked that we consider giving parents a full flexibility to share parental leave. While more leave that could be flexibly used could be useful, Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin has rightly pointed out that there are associated costs in implementing family-friendly practices and a practical approach must be taken, and we have to be mindful that we do not inadvertently affect parents' employability if they are absent from work for an extended period of time.

Employers face manpower and operational demands and these must be calibrated alongside the need to support working parents. But I would like to reassure Members that I know where they are coming from and I do know that they want to support parents as much as they can. Any increase in leave provisions, however, will have to be considered carefully, especially in periods of business uncertainty.

I agree with Ms Joan Pereira that flexibility and mutual understanding between employer and employee are key. Flexible workplace arrangements (FWAs), which contribute to a family-friendly work environment are more sustainable and can be tailored to a parent's own needs.

Mr Saktiandi Supaat suggested that more could be done to reward companies that are pro-family. Today, the Tripartite Standards on FWAs, on Work-Life Harmony and on Unpaid Leave for Unexpected Care Needs recognise progressive companies that support their employees, including those with care-giving responsibilities, to manage both their work and personal needs. Employers who adopt these Standards can use the Tripartite Standard (TS) Logo to distinguish themselves as employers of choice. COVID-19 has also helped create momentum for the use of FWAs, as companies realised that FWAs could be implemented effectively and efficiently as we transition into the new normal. We encourage more employers to come on board and the Government will work with Tripartite Partners to look into other ways to have FWAs become a norm at workplaces.

As to the Member's suggestion on introducing grants or funding schemes to employers who have demonstrated their commitment to fostering family-friendly workplaces in Singapore, we thank you for your suggestion and we will review this further.

Mr Louis Ng has also asked if a public consultation was done for this Bill and to share the reasons why it was not done given that many could have given constructive feedback to refine the Bill. I would like to share that there was no public consultation with respect to the Bill specifically and there are two reasons for this.

First, the process of consultation is not a one-off event. Many Members today have given their feedback on the various schemes under the purview of the CDCA over the years, both formally and informally. We have also debated vigorously on the merits of various support schemes that families can access. In addition, we have regular touchpoints with parents and employers through our community partners and Tripartite Partners. I assure the Member that we have always adopted a listening posture and are receptive to feedback. The Bill is therefore a culmination of many feedback cycles, instead of a single consultation.

Second, most will benefit from this round of amendments. This is the result of the Government stepping up to provide additional support that accrues directly to parents and employers.

Mr Yip Hon Weng raised a question that is close to my heart. How do we measure the success of our efforts to create a Singapore that is Made for Families? Statistics like the take-up rate of various leave schemes, though useful, provide a limited understanding of the daily lives of families and their needs. I can assure the Member that this question preoccupies our minds and MSF, together with the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD), will strive to continue to keep our ear to the ground. Members may be aware that as part of the Emerging Stronger Conversations, Minister Indranee Rajah and myself have been leading a series of conversations since April with individuals to better understand their experiences and thoughts on getting married and raising families.

Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, the current amendments to the Child Development Co-Savings Act are but one step in our endeavour to support marriage and parenthood in Singapore. This is an iterative process and I am heartened by the many views shared by my colleagues; and there are also other on-going reviews related to the conversations on Singapore Women's Development that the Government is leading and I look forward to sharing more in due course.

I thank Members for their various suggestions and inputs. The schemes under the CDCA, be it the various Leave and Benefits schemes, or the CDA, are essential in supporting working parents. However, they do not and should not function in isolation. A tapestry of measures and policies must be woven to ensure that families in Singapore are well supported in their children's growth and development. This will only be possible with the help of our immediate and extended families, employers and community partners.

MSF will continue to do our best to ensure that our policies build a better future for Singapore, anchored by strong families. With that, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I beg to move.

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