SINGAPORE: Associate Professor Jamus Lim, a dedicated Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Seng Kang GRC, has reaffirmed the critical necessity of implementing 24 weeks of parental leave and advocating for policy changes to address gender-related economic disparities.
In a Facebook post last Wednesday (11 Oct), he delved into the impactful research of Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, who was recently honored with the Nobel Prize in Economics.
Highlighting Goldin’s groundbreaking work in the field of “womenomics,” Asso Prof Lim underscored the significant role of gender in shaping economic outcomes.
He mentions that Goldin “thinks like an economist” by being guided by data and logic, which allows her to take counterintuitive positions or draw controversial conclusions.
Discussing the gender pay gap, Asso Prof Lim pointed out that while it was approximately 13 per cent in Singapore in 2018, Goldin’s research and that of her contemporaries shed light on why this gap may not be as stark as initially perceived.
“But the work of Goldin (and others like her) explains why this isn’t as high as it seems on its face. Women tend to choose different jobs from men, and often accumulate less experience than men. Accounting for these differences helps close the gap (to 4 per cent in 2020). ”
Valuable insights for Singapore’s policymakers
In his post, Asso Prof Lim stressed that Goldin’s research provides valuable insights for policymakers, particularly in understanding the root causes behind women’s career decisions.
One of the key issues highlighted was the tendency for women to lag behind in their careers due to taking more time off from the workforce after having children.
“Now, within the household, such a choice could be entirely rational (say, if the guy is the one pulling a higher salary). But it need not be so. ”
While acknowledging the importance of providing women with sufficient time for postpartum recovery, he advocated for the idea of enabling couples to exchange the remaining paid pregnancy leave between them.
“Even better, we should catch up with the rest of the developed world and mandate 24 weeks of paid pregnancy leave, with a minimum of half to be taken by mum, a sixth by dad, and the remainder to be split between them. ”
Moreover, Asso Prof Lim raised an essential question concerning the devaluation of professions dominated by women, such as education and healthcare, in terms of compensation compared to other equally trained professions, particularly those in frontline roles.
“We can also ask ourselves why it is that jobs that feature more women—in education and healthcare—tend to pay less (than other professions with comparable years of training), especially for those performing frontline functions.”
“At some level, this is puzzling. We claim to care a lot about the education and health of our loved ones, but pay woefully little to those who are leading the charge in teaching and caring for our kids and elderly parents.”
Recognizing the influence of labor market dynamics, he acknowledged that prevailing wages are often influenced by the available workforce willing to accept lower remuneration.
However, he emphasized the need to recognize that this explanation alone falls short of encapsulating the complexity of the issue.
In addition, Asso Prof Lim underscored the lack of bargaining power experienced by many teachers and nurses, which directly impacts their earning potential.
“While they are compensated fairly relative to international benchmarks, these salaries don’t stand up well to our immensely high cost of living.”
He added that these salaries fail to reflect the challenging realities of their work, including the typically substantial class sizes managed by teachers and the extended work hours endured by nurses.
It is not surprising, therefore, that recruiting and retaining professionals in both fields has become increasingly challenging.
Workers’ Party pushes for progressive shared parental leave policy
Notably, Associate Professor Jamus Lim, along with his fellow Workers’ Party MPs, has been consistently advocating in the Singapore Parliament.
The Workers’ Party has explicitly included in their manifesto a call for a revised shared parental leave program, proposing a scheme of 24 weeks with at least half of this time allocated to the mother and one-sixth to the father.
During the debate on the White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development in April last year, Asso Prof Lim emphasized the significance of establishing a minimum allocation of weeks for fathers within the shared parental leave system, in contrast to the current arrangement that allows for a maximum of four weeks.
He emphasized that such a modification would support families where women are the primary breadwinners.
He further highlighted the adverse impact on mothers who exhaust more of their leave entitlement, even if for valid and necessary reasons, as it can result in delays in their career progression.
“This is another reason why minimum paternity leave requirements can also indirectly help limit the gender wage gap from rising even further,” said Assoc Prof Lim.
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