It has been proposed in Parliament that the country should dedicate some effort into designing flexiwork policies into the country. This means that flexible working hours for mothers could either be required by law, or take up some other form as policy.
I spoke with a couple of friends: some are working mothers, some are single ladies not yet married and a handful of employers. Their perspectives made for interesting revelation. Whilst most think that family friendly policies would certainly help a woman maintain both a job and a new life as a mother, sociologically there is some resistance.
And this resistance came from the single women.
“Why should they be the ones who are entitled to flexible working hours? Do you mean the rest of us do not have family members to care for?” said Trish Tay, 28.
This was not just the thought of one or two ladies, this was actually quite a ubiquitous remark.
Some also thought these policies would do nothing to encourage child birth.
“I’m not so sure how useful these policies are. No matter how much money you give, no matter how much leave you give…you’re not going to make me want to put a baby in my womb just because”, commented Jane Mah, 30. “It’s all about whether a woman is ready or not…if she is, she is. If not, nothing will entice her”.
It is unfortunate that some people think that these policies are meant to “reward” childbirth.
At a Committee of Supply debate in Parliament, Josephine Teo spoke about the importance of valuing and celebrating parenthood as a society. She understands that a country’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) depends on historical and social factors, which are often not well understood.
These policies are not “rewards”, they are not “carrots” – they’re merely there as an encouragement and the country can easily do away with these if it displeases people so much.
The reality of today’s family life is that both mother and father have to work. There could be assistance at home in the form of grandparents or maids, but not many mothers can bring themselves to subcontract motherly duties in its entirety to another party.
In Parliament also was Desmond Choo who called on the government to legislate the right to flexible work arrangements for mothers. Admittedly, Choo says that the route to legislation will be tough, but necessary for young families. He also tells of an “online portal” to be setup to help companies implement these flexible work arrangements.
“I don’t particularly find it an issue. As it is, we allow our mothers (and even fathers) to work flexibly. There’s so much technology these days, everyone can do their work just as efficiently”, said Wong Kim Seng, 52, the managing director of an engineering firm.
Mothers on the other hand, say they feel “bad” about taking time off from the desk.
“Sometimes I have to come in late, or to bring the kids to the clinic. We’re asked to inform the entire team of our movements and this makes me feel bad. I’m wondering if it’s the boss’ way of asking us to self-censor our time off”, said Charlene Lim, 32.
Is Singapore ready for such rights based legislation? Has our attitudes not caught up yet? Are we perhaps still too engrossed about economic efficiency than about building families?
The dipstick test tell us that perhaps we’re still immature when it comes to social rights.