Forum: Make flexible work arrangements a labour right

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed working arrangements, with employees finding themselves working entirely from home or engaging in what Zoom Video Communications' chief Eric Yuan refers to as a "hybrid work model" - that is, working both at home and in the office.

The recent survey on people's thoughts about going back to the office revealed that a significant majority prefer to work from home, either completely or for several days a week (8 in 10 want to work from home or have more flexibility, Oct 12).

Up until the pandemic hit, many employees found it difficult to access or request flexible work arrangements. Many employers wanted employees to be physically present at their workplace, regardless of productivity.

In the survey, workers expressed a fear of being "penalised by their bosses if they expressed their preference to work from home", and recounted difficulties with convincing their bosses of their productivity.

These sentiments were echoed in recent research by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) into the conflict between caregiving and work (for both low-income mothers and female caregivers for the elderly).

We found that women who were unable to adopt suitable flexible work arrangements ended up having to leave the workforce either completely or partially, endure financial loss and often repeatedly justify their commitment to their work.

Unsupportive organisational cultures and managers have been found to contribute to the low take-up rate of flexible work arrangements. Even when companies have policies for such arrangements, middle managers with decision-making authority often persist in judging employees' productivity by the number of hours they clock online or in face-to-face meetings.

The mere availability of flexible work arrangements is not a sufficient solution to the problems faced by over-burdened workers. One crucial missing component is the right for all employees to request such arrangements, irrespective of employment type. Such requests should be turned down only on business-related grounds, and employers should have a deadline to respond to these requests (which may prevent misuse of this provision).

If flexible work arrangements become a labour right, we will not have to depend on the benevolence of line managers. This will benefit not just mothers and caregivers, but everyone.

Jasmine Gomez

Project Consultant


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