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     FrontPage Edition: Mon 23 August 2004

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PM Lee unveils incentives to boost baby-making among Singaporeans

Prime Minister Lee speaks on changing Singaporean mindsets towards marriage, family and children



"...We are not going to micromanage your lives. I mean, we won't say have the first one by 25 years old, the second one by 30 years old, up to you.

"What we can do is we'll make it easier for families to marry and to have children, you make the decisions.

"But I think what we have to do is to change attitudes. We've got to change attitudes of the singles, of the couples and also of employers.

"Employers, probably easiest because with the employers, you just have to persuade them that they have to be fair to their staff, parents, mothers who have children, give them time off, give them some flexibility, women who are pregnant, be fair to them and don't sack them because they are about to have a baby.

"And if you look at the more successful companies, IBM, Hewlett Packard, the American companies, they are very good employers in this respect. They look after their staff. It's not just the government. We try to be good employers but they are doing it for commercial reasons and it makes sense for them because they know if they take care of their staff properly, their staff will be loyal to the company and will perform.

"Harder is to change the attitudes of singles. They need to have realistic expectations. Don't look for the impossible.

"...I think couples too have to change their mindset because we have to share the responsibility more equally and more fairly. In the old days the man worked, the woman looked after the family. Man brought home the bacon, the woman brought up the kids. And for a lot of homes, they are still like that.

"...So after many years, after thinking this over many times and picking up the stone and putting it back again and again, we will now decide to equalise medical benefits for men and women under the new medical schemes. The older older schemes which are moribund, we will extend it to their children because I think the older schemes they have civil service complexities but for the new schemes, let's treat it as equal. Philosophically I accept. The private sector is doing it, I am doing it, but make sure your husband looks after you.

"...It's a key concern of mothers, both the caring, looking after their kid when he's new, also the bonding, to form that special tie between mother and baby when the child is growing up.

"What do you need that will evolve as the infant grows? First few weeks you need the maternity leave, then you have infant care, then you have child care, then a little bit older you still need help around the family.

"So for maternity leave, having gone through employers, employees, unions and so on, what we will do is we will extend from eight weeks to 12 weeks - four more weeks. We will go from three children to four children. And the extra expense the government will reimburse because if we just put it on the employer, I think it's not fair, the employer will say, 'I prefer not to have a woman.' 

"Infant care, this is a gap in our system, now we have child care subsidies, we don't have infant care subsidies which are commensurate because infant care is a lot more expensive than child care, you need almost one care-giver for two babies. So we will introduce a centre-based infant care subsidy similar to the child care subsidy but higher. I think it's $300 or $400 per month, $400 per month.

"Then we'll have child care leave. This is a new thing, so let me explain what it is. We could have had, say, five weeks more of maternity leave at the beginning when the baby is born but we decided let's have four weeks more and keep this extra one week and let's spread it out over the, say, the seven years of the child's, the first seven years of the child's life, two days a week, so that's actually two weeks more, two days a week over seven years.

"So if you are a parent, a father or a mother with a child below seven, then every year, you are entitled to two days of child care leave. We will change the law. Which means if your child is sick you can do it, if you child needs to see the kindergarten teacher, you can take a day off, you want to take a day off with the child, go to the zoo on a Monday, also can be done. Two days a year, provided the child is below seven. No matter how many children you have below seven.

"And then maids. A lot of parents have asked for maid levy to be maid lighter and I think it's something in it because one of the ways we can ease the burden for working mothers or even non-working mothers in Singapore is to let them have maids, which they can't do in many other countries.

"...So we will lower the maid levy for families with children below 12 years old.

"Grandparents. Grandparents are a tremendous help to people, families who have children.

"...And so I think we should have some incentives which are targeted towards families which have old folks at home, on tax and also on the maid levy. And this we will do.

"...We also have a baby bonus which is now for the second and third child. I think we want to spread it out so that we're not just focusing on this specific child. So, what we will do is we will extend it to the first, second, third and fourth children.

"...We have always resisted a five-day week. I have made this argument many times. When I went into MAS they put up a paper. I said no.

"...So after having said no for a very long time, I think it is time to turn this stone over also. So the civil service will go to a five-day week. I didn't know you were all civil servants! It will apply also to schools and army camps.

"But we will not reduce the official working hours. So whatever it is, 44 hours you have to do, you cover that during the week. And if the public counter is open on Saturday, has to be opened on Saturdays, we will keep it open on Saturdays. So five-day week doesn't mean everybody is off on Saturday. Some people may be off on Monday or some other day of the week.

"...This package by itself isn't going to solve the problem, but if it changes Singaporean mindsets towards marriage, family and children and causes people to think again and reorder their priorities in life, then I think it will contribute to turning the situation around...."

Excerpted from Prime Minister's National Day Rally 2004 Speech

National Day Rally 2004: Full Text of Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong

Source: Singapore Government

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