The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has come up with suggestions to nudge reluctant Singaporeans to have more babies.

At the top of its wish list: give working mothers six months' paid maternity leave, with an option for a further six months' unpaid leave.

Also, it believes bigger government housing grants would help couples get their first Housing Board flat earlier and hopefully start families sooner too.

And it wants employers to do more to help employees balance their work and family life. This means going beyond merely paying lip service, and making flexible work arrangements a reality.

NTUC assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong told The Sunday Times that these and other recommendations by its family unit will be handed to the National Population and Talent Division this week.

The Government is reviewing policies to encourage Singaporeans to marry and have babies as Singapore's total fertility rate has fallen to 1.2 children per woman of childbearing age, far below the replacement rate of 2.1.

The labour movement consulted members, conducted surveys and held small group discussions before drawing up its suggestions.

It hopes to encourage young couples without children to start families, as well as convince those with only one child to consider having more, said Ms Cham, 43, a former nominated MP.

She thinks it would make a difference if maternity leave goes up from the current four months to six months. 'When parents don't want to have a second kid, they say it is because they don't have enough quality time to spend with the child,' she said.

But even if the Government pays for the additional two months of maternity leave, there must be buy-in from smaller firms because they have to hire temporary staff when mothers go on long leave.

'Today, if we say there is no discrimination, we're kidding ourselves,' Ms Cham said. 'In reality, some women fear that if they disappear from the job for six months, they can be displaced forever.'

Still, she felt six months' maternity leave would be attractive to women considering motherhood.

To make housing more affordable for young couples, she hoped the Government would increase the housing subsidy, which is now between $30,000 and $40,000 for first-time HDB resale flat buyers.

Young couples say they still find it hard to afford their first flat. The extra financial help might reverse the trend of delayed marriage, said Ms Cham, citing the rising number of singles aged 25 to 29.

The NTUC's list of ideas includes having two days' mandatory paternity leave. 'The guys don't mind taking their own leave, but it's a kind of support that the company can give if we want to promote equal parenting,' she said.