Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Slew of new measures take effect on Jan 1

SINGAPORE: A slew of new measures kick in on Tuesday. Among them are parents getting better support in raising a child and employers abiding by a weekly day-off policy for foreign maids. Car buyers and taxi users too will benefit from new regulations.

The Child Development Account under the Baby Bonus scheme is aimed at helping families with the costs of raising children. It is a savings account where parents' deposits are matched dollar-for-dollar by the government, up to a cap ranging from S$6,000 to S$18,000, depending on the birth order of the child.

From January, parents can continue to dip into the savings account until their children are 12 years old, instead of six. This includes paying for healthcare and childcare fees.

Associate Professor Paulin Straughan, a sociologist with the National university of Singapore (NUS), said the move is pertinent, given the demands of raising a child.

She added: "A big concern for parents now is childcare. And childcare for school-going primary kids, primary school kids are not cheap. For example, after school care. So if they are allowed to dip into the CDA for this, it will certainly help working dual-income families significantly."

The new year also marks the start of mandatory weekly rest-days for foreign domestic workers. This will apply to those whose work permits are issued or renewed from January 1, 2013. All maids will be covered by the new legislation by 2015.

Employers and workers should agree on which day of the week the rest day falls, and if there's no day-off, employers must give monetary compensation.

Employment agencies are also expected to play a larger role.

President of the Association of Employment Agencies, K Jayaprema, said: "The employers are going to need the employment agencies to be part of this, because we are supposed to negotiate the off-days, we are supposed to witness the paperwork, when the domestic worker actually agrees not to take her day off and to be compensated.

"So I will strongly encourage employers to ensure that when they are going through this process of off-days with the employees, they should work with the employment agencies involved."

Separately, those eyeing a new car can stand to benefit from the new Carbon Emissions-Based Vehicle Scheme. Owners of cars which are more fuel-efficient and emit less carbon will enjoy rebates of up to S$20,000. This will be given as an offset against the vehicle's Additional Registration Fee.

To make an informed choice, buyers are advised to look out for the mandatory Fuel Economy Labelling Scheme (FELS) at showrooms.

The Land Transport Authority said only cars that are approved by LTA under FELS can be registered for use from January 1.

Those who do not own a car may also now find it easier to get a cab. That is because operators must ensure that 70 per cent of their fleet are on the road during peak hours and clock an average daily mileage of 250 kilometres. This translates to around eight to nine hours on the road per day, five days a week.

Observers believe the move may burden smaller operators and cause them to merge, in order to meet the standards.

Associate Professor Lee Der-Horng of the Department of Civil Engineering at NUS said: "With this quality of service measurement, this may become a burden to the smaller operators. Because given their size and given their corporate resources, it may be even more difficult for them to satisfy (the requirements).

"Perhaps we may see a merger between the smaller operators but from the passengers side, this may be good news as well. After the merger, they may better cooperate resources and they may be able to provide better service to passengers."

Taxis will be also allowed to pick up and drop off passengers along roads within the Central Business District, except for roads with bus lanes during the operating hours of the lanes.

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