SINGAPORE: More measures to encourage companies to adopt flexible work arrangements (FWAs) are in the pipeline, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower Low Yen Ling on Tuesday (Mar 3).
In her Committee of Supply speech, Ms Low said that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is trying to spur the adoption of FWAs in light of evolving workplace practices and an ageing population.
Providing details on some measures, Ms Low said the ministry will produce sector-specific resources to help companies implement FWAs, since some of them might have challenges in adopting these arrangements.
For example, hospitality and healthcare workers tend to work in shifts and may not have access to more flexible hours.
MOM will also introduce new tripartite standards on FWAs and work-life harmony to recognise "employers who are committed to work-life harmony", she said.
Sector-specific employer support groups on FWAs, called Communities of Practice, will also be piloted through the Institute for Human Resource Professionals, while the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) will “grow a community of Work-Life Ambassadors to spread the word within and beyond the workplace”, Ms Low said.
The TAFEP website will also be revamped as a one-stop resource for everything to do
with FWAs, for instance, consolidating all implementation guides, so it
will make it easy for companies to adopt, she added.
MOM will also launch an online free-to-use employment contract builder to help employers include clauses on FWAs into their employees’ contracts.
HR executives and senior managers who have successfully executed FWAs will be invited to share their practices with other professionals.
CALLS FOR MANDATORY FWA POLICIES
Some MPs called for more action to be taken on flexible work arrangements given Singapore’s ageing population and the growing need for caregiver support.
In particular, they said that the Government should make parental care leave and flexible work arrangements mandatory.
Member of Parliament (MP) Chen Show Mao and Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong asked if there should be statutory right to flexible work arrangements.
Mr Chen, who is from the Workers' Party, said that FWAs could relieve some of the pressures felt by informal elder caregivers.
“Almost half of our informal caregivers to seniors do not work at other jobs often because of the unpaid caregiving responsibilities that they have taken on to their own financial detriment, and to their own reduced retirement adequacy,” he said.
He asked if MOM would consider measures such as CPF top ups, or cash grants for full-time informal elder caregivers in low-income households.
Similarly, MP Louis Ng asked for the Government to legislate parent care leave given Singapore’s “greying population” and the Government’s own recognition that people need to spend time to look after their parents.
Mr Ng, who noted that all civil servants have access to parent care leave, said: “We are a family-friendly employer, and now we need to be a family-friendly Government”.
Mental health advocate Ms Ong also pointed out that other countries such as the UK and Canada have legislated the right to FWAs.
In response, Ms Low said that though these suggestions have “good intentions”, legislating the right to request for fewer work hours may lead to unintended consequences.
For one, employers might refuse to consider hiring jobseekers who are likely to exercise their rights, such as parents and seniors.
“These are told to us by the Citizens’ Panel that they would prefer that we have a broad-based adoption of FWAs instead of legislation because they know that legislation is not the silver bullet to solve this issue,” Ms Low said, referring to a panel that brought together 55 Singaporeans last year to discuss work-life harmony.
A more practical approach is to provide employers support and to develop their own FWAs that best suits their employees, she said.
Ms Low added that employers in countries that have legislated FWAs still have a wide range of reasons they can use to reject particular applicants, such as how it could create additional cost or affect the quality of work.
Legislation could "erode employability for the very people we are trying to protect", she said.
In responding to the MPs' clarifications, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo also explained that while the Government understands the needs of workers, but it must also take into account the “pressures” employers face “and then make a judgment call”.
When Mr Ng asked if MOM plans to study whether increasing a person’s annual leave entitlement will reduce their employability, Mrs Teo said that cannot be linked to just one policy move.
But improving work conditions and work-life harmony will “always be on MOM’s mind”.