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Opening Speech By Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Social and Family Development for Second Reading of Child Development Co-Savings (Amendment) Bill on 18 September 2023

Type: Official Speeches (All), Official Speeches: Sun Xueling

Topic(s): Children & Families

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

2.     Families are the cornerstone of our society. It is where we learn our first lessons about values that will shape our character and identity. Families also provide a safe environment to nurture our children in. A strong family can help children develop into resilient adults who go on to contribute to the society.

3.     While parenthood is a fruitful journey, it is also one that has its fair share of challenges. The 2021 Marriage and Parenthood Survey shows that the ability to manage costs of child-raising as well as work and family commitments are key considerations of couples when making parenthood decisions. The Government is committed to support couples as they embark on their parenting journey. One of the key ways in which we do so is through the Marriage and Parenthood Package, which comprises a suite of measures to support parents, such as the parental leave and benefit and the Baby Bonus schemes.

4.     To ensure that the Marriage and Parenthood Package continues to meet the evolving needs of parents, we periodically review our policies and introduce enhancements. Since the Child Development Co-Savings Act was introduced more than 20 years ago, we have made amendments to effect enhancements such as the introduction of Government-Paid Paternity Leave and Shared Parental Leave. 

5.     We have also introduced the Government-Paid Maternity Benefits to support mothers who are ineligible for the Government-Paid Maternity Leave - because they are on short-term contracts. The latest round of enhancements in 2021 saw the introduction of the Government-Paid Paternity Benefit and Government-Paid Adoption Benefits, to support working fathers and adoptive mothers who are shorter-term contract workers.

6.     This year, at Budget 2023, Deputy Prime Minister Mr Lawrence Wong had announced the latest set of enhancements to strengthen our support for parents. They include an increase to the Baby Bonus Cash Gift by $3,000, and enhancing Government co-matching contributions to the Child Development Account for eligible children born on or after 14 February 2023. DPM Wong also announced further enhancements to parental leave schemes, which include the doubling of the Government-Paid Paternity Leave and Unpaid Infant Care Leave from 1 January 2024. 

7.     The Child Development Co-Savings (Amendment) Bill that is currently before this House seeks to give effect to the leave enhancements announced at Budget 2023. This includes the enhancements to our paternity payment and reimbursement schemes, namely the increase of Government-Paid Paternity Leave by two weeks, on a voluntary basis, and increase of the Government-Paid Paternity Benefit in parallel, as well as the extension of the Unpaid Infant Care Leave.

8.     First, clauses 7, 8, 9 and 10 set out the main provisions for the enhancements to our paternity payment and reimbursement schemes. These enhancements apply to fathers of children born on or after 1 January 2024, or with an estimated date of delivery on or after 1 January 2024, as well as adoptive fathers where the eligibility date of the application to adopt a child is on or after 1 January 2024. 

9.     Clause 10 will allow the Government to reimburse employers who voluntarily grant additional paternity leave of up to two weeks to eligible employees, on top of the current mandatory paternity leave of up to two weeks. The additional two weeks of paternity leave will be implemented on a voluntary basis, so that employers have more time to adjust. The reimbursement limits for employers will as a result be doubled to cover both the compulsory paternity leave and additional paternity leave. Employers who are ready to grant the extra paternity leave to eligible employees will be reimbursed by the Government from 1 January 2024. 

10.    Clause 8 will double the Government-Paid Paternity Benefit from the current 14 days to 28 days of an eligible father’s total income. Fathers who cannot qualify for paternity leave under the CDCA due to their employment arrangements may be eligible for this enhanced Government-Paid Paternity Benefit, which is a cash benefit in lieu of the paternity leave. 

11.    Clauses 7 and 9 will also effectively double the limits for the Government’s payment to eligible self employed fathers for their loss of income when they stop work to care for their children. 

12.    We are encouraged by the increase in take-up rates of Government-Paid Paternity Leave since its introduction 10 years ago. Today, more than half of our fathers take paternity leave. Nevertheless, we want to do more to encourage fathers  to be more involved in their children’s growing years. The enhancements we are making to the Government-Paid Paternity Leave and Government-Paid Paternity Benefit are critical steps that the Government is making towards normalising paternal involvement in our society.

13.    We hope this increase will allow fathers to be more involved in caring for their children from the very beginning. Research has shown that children whose fathers are more involved have better outcomes in their physical, cognitive, and emotional development. Locally, data from the Singapore Longitudinal Early Development Study, or SG LEADS in short, has shown that paternity leave utilisation can increase marital satisfaction. It also found that that taking a longer duration of paternity leave would significantly reduce children’s behaviour problems through the mediating effects of family dynamics.

14.    Second, we will double the provision of Unpaid Infant Care Leave, from the current six days per parent per 12 months, to 12 days per parent per 12 months. All working parents will be eligible for the additional Unpaid Infant Care Leave if they have a Singaporean child below the age of two years on or after 1 January 2024. 

15.    We hope that this increase will better support parents who require additional time to care for their children in the early years. 

16.    The Bill also contains other clauses to improve operational efficiency and clarity.

17.    Clause 2 of the Bill will allow for a simplified revocation process for Approved Persons in specific scenarios. The Approved Persons are designated persons responsible for overseeing the administration of the Child Development Account (CDA) funds, which can only be used at Approved Institutions. They ensure that the CDA funds are withdrawn according to the prescribed usages in the Child Development Co-saving Regulations (CDCR). The simplified revocation process will be set out in the CDCR and are intended to apply in scenarios where the Approved Persons for the Approved Institutions are clearly no longer able to perform the role, such as when the Approved Person is wound-up or dissolved.

18.    There are also other clauses that clarify the total number of days of lost income that can be claimed by a self employed person for childcare purposes in a calendar year, as well as to clarify the eligibility conditions and computation of benefits under the Government-Paid Paternity Benefit and discretionary reimbursements to employers under the CDCA for employees employed for less than 3 months. This will ensure that the relevant benefits are disbursed according to the design of the schemes.

19.    Sir, this Bill will strengthen our support for parents in managing their work and family commitments, as well as to encourage greater shared parental responsibility in caregiving. The Government is committed to this cause, and will continue to review our measures to provide greater assurance to young couples as they think about starting and growing their families. Beyond our support schemes, it is important that, as a society we also strive towards building a family-friendly culture.

20.    One key challenge that couples contemplating parenthood often grapple with is how to balance their caregiving and professional commitments. Hence, it is most heartening when we see employers step up to address this issue. Since the announcement by DPM Wong in February this year, there have been employers who have voluntarily started granting fathers the additional two weeks of leave, even ahead of the implementation date of 1 January 2024. Take the example of Telstra, a global telecommunications and technology company that has been operating in Singapore for more than 20 years. Telstra has more than 200 staff. They have moved to review their paternity leave policy immediately after the announcement, and started offering the additional two weeks of paternity leave to their employees from 1 July 2023 before Government reimbursement will commence from 1 January 2024. 

21.    Since then, some fathers have enjoyed the additional paternity leave and feedback has been positive. On top of offering additional paternity leave, Telstra also has also adopted other family-friendly work practices, such as a flexible working policy where employees can choose their work hours and location, with no mandated number of days in the office. This is a commendable demonstration of commitment towards adopting family-friendly practices. By doing so, employers will also benefit as they can improve their talent attraction and retention outcomes. Over time, we hope to see many more companies making it a priority to create a family-friendly workplace culture.

22.    Sir, let me conclude. The Bill before this House today is part of our greater effort to create a Singapore that values and supports family well-being. 

23.    My Ministry is committed to supporting Singaporeans as they embark on their parenthood journey, and will continue to work with our community partners, such as the Families for Life (FFL) movement, to build up an ecosystem that nurtures strong families. To truly make Singapore a place where all families can thrive, we need a collective, whole-of-society effort. Everyone has a part to play, from individuals and families, to employers and communities. Let us all work together towards this common goal, and join hands to realise our vision of a Singapore Made For Families.

24.   Mr Speaker, I beg to move.