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Friday, February 18, 2011

Paternity Leave Hits Norway Cabinet

2 of Norway's male ministers have gone on childcare leave.

In Norway, both mothers and fathers get 2 weeks off right after the birth of their child. They are offered a combined 46 weeks of fully paid leave. 10 weeks out of these 46 weeks are reserved for the father, and if the father refuses to take them, these 10 weeks are forfeited.

Two thirds of Norway's active cabinet are FEMALE. Enough said?

The social fabric in Singapore has undergone a sea change. In my Grandma's old sprawling house in the 1960s, an entire family of 8 children camped in a large bedroom, pulling out mattresses to sleep on the floor. The patriarch of the family paid an allowance to his wastrel brother's wife and her 8 kids. He provided them lodgings and saw them all through school. Meanwhile, my Grandma ruled over all with an iron hand. At no time was I, the precious bundle, left to a maid. In families all over Singapore, spinster aunts, unmarried sisters and feisty Grandmothers were happy to pull childcare duty because they knew that the extended family would look after them in their old age.

We are now a nation of nuclear families. If I look after your kids today, nothing says you will look after me tomorrow. Sorry... I need to earn money for my old age. Go find someone else to look after your kids. Go on. Fob your kids on to someone else or give them a latchkey 'cos I ain't no sucker ya know.

People are now encouraged to work beyond retirement. All over our island, mothers need to work to help fathers make ends meet. Meanwhile, there is a funny maid levy that is supposed to keep the numbers of maids down to some elusive proportion. Was there even a target proportion in the first place? Hasn't it been aeons since this target was busted? Does not that show the ineffectiveness of the maid levy? Did not someone realize that this mechanism is ineffective against the momentum of the social forces which have created a vacuum in every home. The economy has sucked up Mothers, Fathers, Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Aunts, Uncles and Sisters... who is left to look after the kids? And one expects the maid levy to be effective against the HUGE social vacuum created by a voracious economy?

Fine... if the government wants the money, keep the maid levy. But why reject paternity leave à la Norway on the pretext that the society in Singapore is not ready for it? Which part of society is not ready for it? In every Singaporean marriage there is a woman. This woman is likely to say 'No' to kids because she knows the burden will fall heaviest on her. Who in the right mind wants to hold 2 heavy duty jobs without help from extended family nor maids? No male married to that woman will dare cry foul at paternity leave because he KNOWS he cannot manage without his wife's income. Singaporeans (men or women) will welcome paternity leave.

The other pretext for rejecting paternity leave is that employers will stop employing married men with children. Duh?! Who else is there left to employ huh? Monkeys? Right now, the economy doesn't like women ('cos they have kids to look after and won't be 100% committed to their jobs). The economy doesn't like old people ('cos they're old). If the economy refuses to employ men too, then we really will be scouring the forests around MacRitchie Reservoir for monkey talent so that we can pay them peanuts in view of rising costs. The fact is, giving paternity leave will ensure that everyone gets discriminated against in the employment market (men, women and old folk) and what that really means, is that no one will be discriminated against, no?

Something has to give somewhere unless Singapore's biomedical research can breakthrough to the creation of children who care for themselves and educate themselves.

What really is happening is that we have an almost all-male cabinet where female representation has long been socialized to the male-ish way of thinking. It is a cabinet that reasons from a bedrock of capitalistic ideals, and wont to think that free enterprise American style is the way to go. Since when has the Singapore government become a blind follower of Western ideals?

We were never like that. We were not averse to social engineering when it came to race, language and religion. Has no one yet realized that those old problems are now under control (pretty much... just requires maintenance) and now we have NEW problems that require savvy social engineering through innovative government policy? We made government policy that broke down race barriers. Why can't we make government policy that'll break down the social stigma against men pushing prams, and enjoying babies?

In the USA of today, the majority of the unemployed are MEN. They worked in construction and automobile industries, and reskilling them is an uphill task. Meanwhile, women there pull double duty. Is this what we want in Singapore? When a family functions on ONE salary, what happens to the family when that salary goes kaput? When a family functions on TWO salaries, who looks after the kids in a nation of nuclear families? Maids?

Toyota's manufacturing processes are the stuff of legend. Cross-training is a key component. Industries everywhere believe in cross-training so that when a man is down, others can take over. Gone are the specialized jobs typical of the Ford factory line. It is stupid that family work processes in Singapore hark still from the days of the early Ford production lines. Your role as a woman is this. My role as a man is this. The way I see it, the women are happy to be cross-trained and it is time to enact government policy that'll make it alright for men to be cross-trained in childcare too.


Anonymous said... is a very nice thing they do for parents in Norway!

Wen-ai said...

Hurray! Well-written! *clap clap clap*

sgdigital said...

Well said. And I'll add to it the NSmen's duty of serving 1-3weeks per year. I doubt any man can claim paternity leave every year.

My SINFONIA said...

Hear ye! Hear ye!