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'More sustainable' to use flexible work arrangements when childcare centres, schools close due to COVID-19: MOM

'More sustainable' to use flexible work arrangements when childcare centres, schools close due to COVID-19: MOM

Senior Minister of State for Manpower and for Health Koh Poh Koon speaks in Parliament on Aug 3, 2021.

SINGAPORE: Parents can tap flexible work arrangements when a childcare centre or a school is closed because of links to COVID-19 cases, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon in response to a question in Parliament on Tuesday (Aug 3).

Member of Parliament Saktiandi Supaat (PAP-Bishan-Toa Payoh) had asked if the Ministry of Manpower can consider granting parents special leave on top of childcare leave when a childcare centre or a school is officially ordered to be closed because of links to COVID-19 cases.

Mr Saktiandi said that he raised the question because of feedback from his residents, some of whom have been affected when childcare centres closed. 

A number of schools, pre-schools and childcare centres have been closed as COVID-19 cases in the community rose in recent weeks.

"Some of the parents that came to me highlighted situations where the employers are not enlightened with regards to flexible work arrangement. So in those sort of scenarios, it does matter," the MP said. 

READ: 129 students, 17 school staff members tested positive for COVID-19 over last three months: Chan Chun Sing

“We recognise that working parents may face additional challenges when childcare centres or schools have to close temporarily due to links to COVID-19 cases,” said Dr Koh.

Each working parent of a Singaporean child is eligible for up to six days of paid childcare leave if their child is under the age of seven years, or two days of paid extended childcare leave if their child is between seven and 12 years. 

Almost half of all employees in Singapore have more than 14 days of annual leave and parents may wish to tap these leave entitlements to cope with closures, he said.

“Any enhancements to leave, even if time-limited, will need to take into account the manpower and operational needs of employers,” said Dr Koh, who is also Senior Minister of State for Health. 

“A more sustainable way to support parents would be through providing more flexible work arrangements.” 

READ: Mandatory COVID-19 tests for all students, staff at Punggol Primary School after cases detected 15321964

The Tripartite Standards on Flexible Work Arrangements, on Work-Life Harmony, and on Unpaid Leave for Unexpected Care Needs, were introduced to encourage and guide employers in creating a work environment that helps parents manage their work and family responsibilities, Dr Koh added. 

“In the past year, more employers have also adopted flexible work arrangements such as flexible hours or remote work. These will certainly go a long way in helping parents and we encourage more employers to do so,” he said.

Dr Koh added that in 2020, 93 per cent of firms offered some form of formal or ad-hoc flexible work arrangements to employees.

"In the context of many employers already having some form of flexible work arrangements, it really is about having that thinking to work together to get past this particular hurdle," he said. 

"It is also in the employer's interest to make sure that any employee who may have a family member, even if is a child, who may be at risk of transmitting or be in contact with a COVID case, to also keep the employee away from work to make sure that he or she doesn't bring any potential infection into the workplace ... so I do urge employers to really adopt that flexible attitude."

He invited parents who feel that they may be "unfairly victimised" by their employer as a result of their need to care for their family to inform MOM or the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP), who will take up the issue with the employer.

Source: CNA/hm(ac)

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