MARRIED fathers will get a guaranteed week off work to spend with their newborns - paid for by the Government.

Currently only dads working for companies that offer paid paternity leave get such a benefit. But such leave will soon become mandatory, and will extend to fathers who are self-employed.

Announcing the change yesterday, which comes after years of lobbying by pro-family groups, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said it sends a signal that fathers should be more involved in raising their children.

The leave will be given to fathers of children born on or after May 1 this year. Its value is capped at $2,500, including Central Provident Fund contributions.

But employers are also encouraged to voluntarily offer the paternity leave to employees with children born on or after Jan 1 this year. They will be reimbursed by the Government.

To qualify, the father must have served his employer for at least three months before the birth of his child, who must be a Singapore citizen.

If the child's mother qualifies for the current 16 weeks of government-funded maternity leave, the father may also take one of those weeks, if mum agrees.

Housewife Teresa Tay, 29, called it a good and useful move. She and her husband, financial business owner Andy Lim, 36, are trying for a second child.

Their son, Darius, is a year old.

But Ms Tay noted that many fathers may not be able to make use of the paternity leave due to work commitments. "Many of my male friends who are fathers and work in banks, for example, can't afford to take leave because there is so much work to be done. If they take the leave, the work will pile up and they have to clear it anyway," she said.

Nonetheless, the move is a strong signal from the Government that a father plays a major role in his child's development, said Mr Josh Goh.

The assistant director in recruitment firm The GMP Group said: "It's definitely a welcome measure. These days, a lot of fathers want to be there when their child is born. Even though it's just one week, it helps because that first week is critical."

Employers said that the length and flexibility of the paternity leave struck the right balance. It is to be taken within 16 weeks of the child's birth, or over a one-year period if employer and employee agree.

In a press statement yesterday, the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) welcomed such flexibility and said it was glad employers' concerns had been heard.

SNEF president Stephen Lee also noted that maternity leave had been kept at 16 weeks, which was helpful to employers, given the tight labour market.