What’s the point of parent-care leave or more annual leave if workers do not or cannot take them? 

MP Louis Ng gave an impassioned speech in Parliament calling for legislation of parent-care leave and more annual leave. You can catch the speech in the video below. 

His rationale for asking for more annual leave was because he felt that the workers who are getting the bare minimum of 7 days of annual leave are probably those with the lowest income. This group of vulnerable workers would be the ones with the most “breakbreadking work” and therefore more so need to rest. 

While we applaud his speaking out on this issue, MP Louis Ng might have missed certain points. 

 

  • Having more annual leave could mean a less competitive workforce 

For many lower income workers such as cleaners, F&B and retail staff, having too many annual leave days would actually make them less competitive vis-a-vis foreigners doing the same job. Not many companies adopt best-sourcing processes and would favour what helps their bottom line more – workers that do not require as much annual leave. This might mean lower income workers losing their jobs. 

 For them… having a job even with the bare minimum days of annual leave is better than no job at all.

 

  • Legislating parent-care leave does not mean people would take it

Case in point – paternity leave. The take-up rate for paternity leave was 35% in 2019, 53% in 2017 and 47% in 2016. The relatively low take-up rates could be attributed to a combination of factors such as company culture, societal attitudes on gender roles and self-policing at work. 

 

  • Legislation does not tackle the root of the problem – mindsets  

If companies adopted family friendly policies in the first place, employees would then be able to take time off or leave as they wish. Perhaps, the focus should then be how to get employers on board and make sure that workers who take time off or leave to spend time with family are not viewed as less productive or efficient.  

The route of moral suasion and companies buying into the idea that family friendly policies will help workers feel more fulfilled and perform better at work trumps any legislation.  

 

Perhaps we need to re-look the value of pursuing legislation and instead ask how Singapore can continue to shape the conversation on family friendly policies.

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