Madam Speaker, I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a second time.
Families are the most important building blocks of Singapore society. The Government is committed to helping Singaporeans achieve their marriage and parenthood aspirations. In January this year, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean unveiled a new package of measures to encourage Marriage & Parenthood (M&P).
This Bill gives effect to some of the measures under the M&P package, namely the enhanced maternity benefits and new parental leave schemes.
There are four key components in the Child Development Co-Savings (Amendment) Bill.
First - the Bill introduces new leave benefits in the form of paternity leave and shared parental leave to encourage fathers to play a bigger role in bringing up their children.
Second, the enhancement of existing childcare leave and adoption leave. These are to better help working parents manage work and family commitments.
Third, we will enhance maternity benefits to better support working mothers whose employment arrangements make them ineligible for maternity leave today.
Finally we will extend protection for working mothers against dismissal without sufficient cause and retrenchment, to cover the full term of pregnancy.
ENABLING FATHERS TO PLAY A BIGGER ROLE IN CHILD-RAISING
Paternity Leave and Shared Parental Leave
Madam Speaker, fathers play an important role in raising children. To encourage fathers to take on shared parenting responsibility, the Government is introducing 1 week of Government-paid paternity leave and 1 week of Government-paid shared parental leave. Both leave types are subject to a reimbursement cap of $2,500 per week. We wish that fathers will make good use of all these leave for their families.
All lawfully married natural and adoptive fathers are eligible for paternity leave. The natural father must have served an employer for at least 3 months immediately preceding the child’s birth. In line with maternity leave, the fathers can consume paternity leave in a block within 16 weeks after the child’s birth. If there is mutual agreement between the employer and employee, paternity leave can be consumed flexibly within 12 months from the child’s birth.
Shared parental leave is contingent upon the mother being eligible for 16 weeks of maternity leave. The eligible mother can choose to allocate 1 week of shared parental leave to the father. This can be done on a new Shared Parental Leave Allocation System available on the Central Provident Fund Board website.
Employers can also log into the system to check on their employees’ maternity leave or shared parental leave entitlement. To give certainty to employers, the allocation of shared parental leave, once done, cannot be changed. The only exception is if the father’s employment is terminated before he has consumed the allocated leave, in which case the leave will be returned to the mother. As couples can allocate the shared parental leave within the child’s first year, they should have sufficient time to decide on the arrangements.
ENHANCEMENTS TO EXISTING LEAVE SCHEMES
Extended Childcare Leave
Now I come to the second part. Let me elaborate on the enhancement of existing leave schemes. In 2008, we increased childcare leave from 2 days to 6 days per parent per year, to better support working parents in taking care of young children under the age of seven. Recognising that parents also need time away from work to see to the needs of their children in primary school, the Government will extend 2 days of childcare leave to parents of Singapore citizen children aged seven to twelve years.
To be eligible, parents must have served their employer for at least 3 months. Each parent will be able to take 2 days of childcare leave per year subject to an overall cap of 12 days over the six years between the child’s seventh to twelfth year. The leave is fully paid by the Government, subject to a cap of $500 per day. If a couple has children in both age groups, that is, below seven years and seven to twelve years, an overall cap of 6 days of childcare leave per parent per year applies.
We are also enhancing the Adoption Leave. In 2004, the Government introduced voluntary Government-paid adoption leave. Employers who granted adoption leave to female employees who adopt a child below the age of 12 months could receive salary reimbursement for up to 4 weeks. With effect from 1 May this year, the 4 weeks of adoption leave will be made a statutory provision for adoptive mothers who have served their employer for at least 3 months. The payment for the 4 weeks of leave will be subject to a cap of $10,000.
We have also made changes to provide more time for mothers to take adoption leave. Currently, adoption leave can only be taken after the Court appoints the Director of Social Welfare as Guardian-in-adoption of the child, or when the dependant’s pass has been issued. With effect from 1st May this year, adoptive mothers can take adoption leave earlier, from the date the adoptive mother applies to the court to adopt a local child, or, in the case of a foreign child, when the adoptive mother receives in-principle approval for a dependant’s pass. Adoption leave can also be taken within the child’s first twelve months, instead of within six months previously. All the above arrangements will apply to paternity leave for adoptive fathers.
As we are granting adoption leave ahead of the Court’s issue of the Adoption Order; we have included provisions for the Government to recover the paid adoption leave and paternity leave benefits in the event that the Adoption Order is not issued within one year from the adoption application or the in-principle issuance of the dependant’s pass; or if the child does not obtain citizenship within six months from the Adoption Order.
Shared parental leave, paternity leave, adoption leave and extended childcare leave will apply to self-employed mothers and fathers as well. These parents would need to be engaged in their trade, business, profession or vocation for at least 3 months, except when consuming shared parental leave.
Extension of Childcare Leave, Extended Childcare Leave and Infant Care Leave to Unwed Single Parents
While not part of the M&P package, we have taken this opportunity to extend some leave benefits under the Child Development Co-savings Act to never-married single parents. As announced in my Ministry’s Committee of Supply session, we will extend the childcare leave and unpaid infant care leave to unwed single parents with effect from 1st May, if they have a Singapore citizen child and served an employer for at least 3 months. This move is in line with my Ministry’s efforts to enhance support for vulnerable families, of which single parent families are one such group.
SUPPORT FOR ECONOMICALLY ACTIVE MOTHERS
Government Paid Maternity Benefit
The third aspect of the Bill is provisions to provide maternity support for more working women. Today, some do not qualify for any maternity leave due to their employment arrangements. These could be women who have worked for some time, but their contracts expire before delivery of the child. They could also include women who are on multiple short-term contracts.
With the new Government-paid maternity benefit scheme, or GPMB for short, they will now enjoy the Government-paid share of maternity leave in the form of a cash benefit. They are eligible if their total employment or self-employment duration is at least 90 days in the 12 months preceding delivery. Mothers can receive Government Paid Maternity Benefit for births on or after 1st January this year.
The mother will receive 8 weeks (or 56 days) of Government Paid Maternity Benefit GPMB for her first or second child, or 16 weeks (or 112 days) for her third and subsequent child. The Government Paid Maternity Benefit GPMB will be based on the average income earned over the 12 month period preceding birth. Mothers who have worked for longer periods before giving birth will receive a higher benefit. The GPMB is capped at $10,000 for every 28 days.
Generally, a working woman cannot receive both maternity leave and GPMB. The only exception to this is if a mother’s contract ends before she could fully consume her maternity leave. In such cases, the mother can receive GPMB in addition to the maternity leave, such that she receives paid maternity benefits of up to 8 weeks for a first or second child, and 16 weeks for a third or subsequent child. This ensures that the mothers whose contract expires before or after delivery can receive equivalent paid maternity benefits.
Let me emphasise that the GPMB is not to replace the paid maternity leave. For the majority of women, they remain employed after child-birth, and continue to benefit from the normal maternity leave provision.
ENHANCED MATERNITY PROTECTION PERIOD
This brings me to the 4th aspect of this Bill, which is ensuring that mothers are better protected from being denied of their maternity leave benefits due to termination of employment. The Bill has extended the protection period for pregnant employees. From 1st May 2013, pregnant employees who have served an employer for at least 3 months and obtained a doctor’s certification of pregnancy prior to the notice of dismissal, will be protected against dismissal without sufficient cause, or retrenchment, throughout their pregnancy. This means that employers will be required to compensate or reinstate pregnant employees with their full maternity leave benefits, if employers dismissed pregnant employees without sufficient cause or retrenched them.
This is an enhancement to the existing provisions, where pregnant employees’ rights to maternity leave benefits are only protected during the 3 months preceding delivery for retrenchment, and 6 months preceding delivery for dismissals without sufficient cause. The Bill makes such provisions through related amendments to the Employment Act, which also applies to the maternity leave provisions under the Child Development Co-Savings Act.
Offences and Penalties
The Ministry of Manpower has also reviewed the offences and penalties provisions to ensure that employers do not deny their employees their leave benefits. The changes bring the associated penalties for employers who fail to grant or pay the various statutory leave schemes in the Child Development Co-Savings Act, in line with other employment offences in the Employment Act. Employers who commit an offence in relation to the various leave schemes can penalised with a fine of up to $5,000 and, or imprisonment for up to 6 months. For repeat offences, the penalty is a fine of up to $10,000, and, or imprisonment for up to 12 months.
The maternity leave and childcare leave provisions are under both the Child Development Co-Savings Act and the Employment Act. Any maternity leave or childcare leave offence on or after 1st May 2013 under one Act will be considered in determining if an offence is a repeat offence in the other Act.
Ensuring a Balanced Package
In formulating the enhancements, the Government has consulted the Tripartite partners and other stakeholders extensively. Whilst providing working parents with more leave entitlements to help them better balance work and family commitments, it is important to ensure that employers’ concerns on the impact on business costs and operations are also taken into consideration, so as to mitigate any adverse effects on the employability of parents. Hence, the new leave schemes, namely paternity leave, shared parental leave, the 2 day extended childcare leave and adoption leave are all fully Government-paid. Before going on this leave, employees should work out with their employers, arrangements that best meet the needs of both parties while minimising disruptions to business operations.
The Bill is scheduled to come into effect on 1st May. Notwithstanding, the Government will reimburse employers who voluntarily grant their employees the extended childcare, paternity and shared parental leave schemes from 1st January this year, even before the enhancements are made mandatory through legislation. This is to encourage employers to be generous and start granting the leave benefits early.
Madam Speaker, encouraging marriage and parenthood, is an important and worthwhile goal for Singapore. It is also one in which government legislations alone cannot accomplish. And let me conclude by urging employers and the community to not only embrace the new measures but also to do their own part to create a more positive environment for marriage, parenthood and family life. It is through a whole-of-society effort that we can make Singapore A Great Place for Families.
Madam, I beg to move.