THE National Trades Union Congress' (NTUC) recent proposal to extend paid maternity leave from four months to six months, among other things, stirred up a debate over how best to nudge Singaporeans to have more babies.
Bosses felt it would disrupt business, while women and family advocacy groups sought a longer-term measure like more childcare leave for both parents.
NTUC's U Family director Toh Hwee Tin, 47, gives her response.
Are you surprised by negative reactions to the 'six months' paid leave for mums' proposal?
There are both positive as well as negative reactions, and we do not expect consensus and agreements to be formed overnight. U Family is a community for working parents. We have regular dialogues and gather feedback through online surveys and focus-group discussions. Our members and union leaders told us their challenges and needs, and gave suggestions.
There are real concerns on the extended maternity leave; for example, disruptions to businesses.
But we must acknowledge that if we do not have breakthrough changes, we'll have to pay a price if there are fewer babies who will grow up to support the economy.
NTUC has recommended many measures, such as a review on the implementation of flexible work arrangements.
These measures won't work if our community, agencies, employers, co-workers, families and individuals have the same mindset. There is a need for a new mindset to support a good living environment for our working families.
Did NTUC consider the impact on small businesses, like staff shortage and overstretching staff to cover mums on leave?
Instead of mothers leaving the workforce totally, we hope working mothers can remain in the workforce or return to the workforce after child-rearing. We want to help our working families.
Some small businesses have manpower constraints. The co-workers who support mothers on maternity leave are the wind under the wings of working mothers, and we have to acknowledge and appreciate them as well.
We can also try to improve flexibility; for example, in childcare and other support, to get mothers back to work more quickly.
Overall, it is about a balanced and flexible approach. There is a need for a certain amount of flexibility and negotiation between employer and employee, with some government intervention where necessary.
Ms Marissa Mayer, who is pregnant, has been appointed CEO of Yahoo. What's your reaction?
That is her choice as an individual. I can only say that we should consider that an average mother needs more support and family time with her baby. But if we look at it positively, she demonstrates that it is possible to have a career and a family.
But only 4 per cent of Fortune 500 CEOs are female, with most doing so after their child-bearing years are over. Do you think having babies and a successful career are mutually exclusive?
Having babies and a successful career are not mutually exclusive.
Working parents can have both career and family if we put in place a good living environment and proper pro-family infrastructure for them.
We must also strengthen the value of family in the young workforce and encourage our young to have a positive mindset towards marriage. Once we have both software and hardware in place, more people will be encouraged to start a family young.
Our young must know that one cannot turn back the biological clock when one is older.