Monday, February 7, 2011

What it is like to be a mum in Finland

Feb 7, 2011

I AM a Singaporean mother who is currently on maternity leave in Finland ('Encourage gender equality and the babies will come'; Jan 22). I was holding a job there - technically, I still do - when my child came along.

A month before my expected delivery date, I started my maternity leave. For the next eight months, I would receive up to 80 per cent of my salary with two full months paid for by the company and the rest covered by the state.

After that, should I choose to stay at home with my baby in his formative years, my position in the company would be held for up to three years. A child allowance of €200 (S$350) is also paid monthly until the child grows well into his teens.

Family-friendly benefits are by no means restricted to mothers. Fathers are given up to three weeks of paternity leave. And because they are expected to chip in with child rearing, a certain portion of benefits can be shared by the father if he stays at home while the mother returns to work.

Benefits in Finland are classed as maternity and parental allowances to reflect the equally important role of fathers in bringing up a child.

Singapore has come a long way to join the First World club but like its counterparts, it is also afflicted with the bane of falling birth rates. Singapore's policymakers must weigh the pro-business policies that keep the cost of labour low and make Singapore competitive, against the cost of creating an environment where the burden of having a baby does not fall squarely on the mother's shoulder.

A paradigm shift in people's mindset is also needed so that women are not discriminated against in the workplace and men play a bigger role in parenting.

Ashley Chang (Ms)

[Benefits have to be paid for in some way. There is no mention of taxes in Finland. The tax is 6.5% to 30%, with municipal tax of 15% - 20%. Corporate tax is another 26%.

In contrast, Singapore taxes are 3.5% to 20% personal income tax, with 7% GST, and 17% corporate tax.

The paradigm shift may well need a tax system shift.]

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