Monday, August 27, 2012

Maternity Leave vs Fertility Rate

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in this field and I am just stating my 2 cents worth of comment. Do not condemn me if whatever I write is incorrect.

Recently our trade union (NTUC) in response to calls by the National Population and Talent Division for ideas to boost Singapore’s falling fertility rate, recommended that working mothers be given 6 months of paid maternity leave, with another optional 6 months of unpaid leave.

Quoting the NTUC President Diana Chia
"It's important for us to encourage employers to embrace better work-life (balance). Particularly after delivery, there are certain stresses for women. Many women, because of this difficulty, leave their job to take care of their family. And to get them back to work is also an enormous task. So we're actually looking at how we can phase in this.”

The Asian Parent wrote an article asking for some feedbacks from the public and from what I read, there are definitely more than just the maternity leave issue that is the main concern for parents or parents-to-be.

I like what Sher-li Torrey (founder of Mums@Work) shared in the article
“In truth, parenthood is lifetime and (parents) actually need more time off when the child is a toddler, goes to school, etc. Though the first 6 months is important, it’s the first 6-12 years that we need more support.”

It is so true that a child’s development is not just the first 6-12 months. In fact any parent would agree that parenthood is a lifetime commitment. The idea of increasing maternity leave is not a bad thought, but it is just a blanket solution to a very complex problem. A simple fact that we do not feed the same food to all  children just because it is nutritious, goes to show that we can not have one blanket solution to tackle the problem of falling fertility rates in Singapore. In my own opinion, an extension of maternity leave form the current plan is not going to work at all.

From the companies’ point of view
I’m not sure how many companies will be happy with an absence employee for 6 months. Plus the child care leave, annual leave, medical leave, etc. Any company who is employing a working mother will be expecting only about 40% performance. I am not a boss, but that maths does not look good to me.

From a mother’s point of view (pardon my ignorance)
I have spoken to several mothers before and as much as all of them wants to have more time with their kids, but sometimes working hours away from home is a very good break for them, both emotionally and mentally. In other words, working is a good form of balance for some mothers. Of course, there are the SAHMs, I can just totally salute them for their tenacity and patience.

From a father’s point of view (again I do not represent all fathers)
I do not see giving more maternity leave will encourage me to have a 3rd child. I like what another parent said in the above-mentioned article, Parenthood ≠ Motherhood. If the nation do not look into paternity benefits, what good will it be even if the maternity benefits are very tempting? Remember it takes 2 to clap, it takes 2 to have babies.

So, what can the nation do to help fertility rates? Here are some suggestions:
1. Increase paternity leave (maybe 1 month, or at least make paternity leave mandatory), fathers experience all the sleepless nights during the first few months too, in fact when mothers are resting during the “first month”, we are the ones who takes care of everything like feeding the baby, buying groceries, cooking, cleaning, etc.

2. Lower early child care cost, currently most parents are paying anything from $400-$1200 to send their children to childcare centres, and that is just for one child.

3. On the same note of child care, we should really look into having more child care centres. I wanted to send my 2nd girl to a nearby centre but one year before, the centre is already full. What can we do? We have to send her to another centre which is much further. More cost!

BUT… It’s not just the responsibility of the Nation to make it happen. I think a change in mindset is needed to understand the importance of having children. If the younger generation of couples do not see the need or importance of having kids, then no amount of “monetary bait” will help to boost the fertility rate.

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