Sunday, November 8, 2009

No need for women to do NS, says PM Lee

By Dawn Tay

A DIALOGUE between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and around 200 women from various women's organisations yesterday focused on an arguably male-centric issue - national service.

Of the 10 women who spoke, six rose to debate whether NS should be made compulsory for women and children of new citizens and permanent residents, and whether it disadvantaged men, at the People's Association Women's Integration Network Council dialogue.

Asked whether Singapore women are disadvantaged as, unlike men, they do not receive NS allowances as part of their pay, PM Lee assured the mainly female audience that career advancement for men and women alike would depend on the individual's ability.

Allowances for Singapore men who have completed NS are to ensure that they are not left behind when they start work after their two-year army stint and to compensate for their time in reservist training, he said.

NS should not be made compulsory for women for the sake of career advancement, he said.

"The purpose of national service is to have an operationally ready Singapore Armed Forces."

Dialogue participants suggested making NS mandatory for children of PRs to ensure a level playing field for all young people here.

But PM Lee rejected this, saying that doing so would scare away potential citizens. He added that each year, several hundred children of new Singaporeans and PRs elect to serve NS.

Before opening the floor to questions, PM Lee spoke on employment opportunities here and stressed the need for women to return to the workforce after having children.

He urged companies to be more supportive by adopting flexi-work schemes, and husbands to help with housework and bringing up the children.

He also said that the Government hopes to announce in two weeks whether the Jobs Credit Scheme - the $4.5 billion, one-year scheme to help employers retain local workers during the recession - would be extended beyond this year.

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