The Ministry of Manpower will be introducing tripartite guidelines on flexible work arrangements next year, but Workers' Party MP Louis Chua asked if there will be consequences for companies that do not follow these guidelines.
Workers' Party MP Louis Chua and Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang speak in parliament on Oct 4, 2023.
SINGAPORE: Flexible work arrangements (FWAs) are an important issue that many are concerned about and "enlightened employers" are thinking hard about using such arrangements to attract and retain talent, Minister of State for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) Gan Siow Huang said in parliament on Wednesday (Oct 4).
But when it comes to legislation, she added: "Turning flexible work arrangements into something rigid could be detrimental to businesses, and even to workers themselves."
MOM encourages employers to find mutually beneficial arrangements while maintaining workplace trust, Ms Gan said.
She was responding to Workers’ Party Member of Parliament Louis Chua who had repeated his call for the government to enact laws that give employees the right to flexible work arrangements instead of issuing advisories that are not legally binding.
In his adjournment motion, Mr Chua highlighted surveys showing that Singaporeans want work-life balance and flexibility at work. But some companies now require their employees to come back to the office more often.
"I wish to reiterate my call for the government to legislate the right to FWAs for all workers, and go beyond guidelines, advisories, and moral suasion," said the Sengkang MP.
SUPPORT FOR FAMILIES, PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
The reasons for legislating flexible work arrangements go beyond work-life balance, Mr Chua said – parents, caregivers and persons with disabilities would especially benefit from such arrangements.
He pointed to the record low total fertility rate in Singapore and cited a CNA and YouGov poll, where some respondents said they did not want to have children because it would impact their career and current lifestyle.
Those who spoke to CNA also lamented that the sheer stress and workload from their job stops them from having children, he said.
Existing childcare leave is often insufficient given the number of scheduled school closures, and single parents bear a heavier burden.
But if more childcare leave will impact a company’s manpower and operations, flexible work arrangements are a way to "bridge the gap" and allow parents to find time for their children, Mr Chua said.
Singapore also faces a rapidly ageing population, and caregivers "face the Herculean task" of caring for their loved ones while working.
Flexible work arrangements can relieve stress by letting caregivers better plan and attend to their work commitments flexibly while reducing work disruptions when they are providing care to their family members.
Telecommuting is also helpful for persons with disabilities (PWDs) who may need more time and effort to get to their workplaces.
"The right to request for FWAs would help to elevate the careers of many of our workers with disabilities, while empowering more of the 65.7 per cent of PWDs who are outside of the labour force to kickstart their own careers," he said.
TRIPARTITE GUIDELINES VERSUS LEGISLATION
Ms Gan said MOM will be introducing tripartite guidelines on flexible work arrangements requests next year, which will set the norms and expectations for both employers and employees.
A workgroup will study international practices and consult with employers, human resources professionals and employees while developing the guidelines.
Places like the United Kingdom and New Zealand have introduced legislation on the right to flexible work arrangements. This does not guarantee such arrangements for all workers, but establishes a process to shape the right balance of workplace flexibility, she said.
"It is not yet clear to us that this is the best approach to take," Ms Gan said.
"We have to be mindful of the risk of creating a more acrimonious workplace culture if both parties can easily take their flexible work arrangement disputes to court or tribunal, instead of working out mutually suitable arrangements amicably," she said, citing an opinion piece by Singapore National Employers Federation council members.
Mr Chua noted that compliance with the current tripartite standards is completely voluntary, and acknowledged that the tripartite guidelines would be introduced soon.
"While such a move is certainly welcomed, are there any ramifications to employers if they do not adhere to the guidelines?" he asked, adding that moral persuasion does not seem to have worked in the past.
Employers should be educated and encouraged to properly consider flexible work arrangement requests, but enshrining such arrangements into law will protect employees even if the request is ultimately not granted, Mr Chua said.
"Let us not shy away from making the right decision on legislating for FWAs for all workers," he said.
Ng, A. (2023, October 4). Flexible work arrangements an important issue but MOM says no one-size-fits-all approach. CNA. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/flexible-work-arrangements-legislation-important-issue-mom-3820501