Forum: 'Right to disconnect' law key to better work-life balance

People crossing the road near Raffles Quay on Sept 28, 2020.
People crossing the road near Raffles Quay on Sept 28, 2020.PHOTO: ST FILE

I refer to Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad's concerns that a "right to disconnect" law may be too rigid (Bosses to get guide on workers' mental health by year end, Oct 7).

I believe such legislation is not only feasible, but also very necessary in Singapore.

Mr Zaqy worries that such laws may hinder workers who enjoy flexible working hours. I believe that leeway for them is not unthinkable.

Using a recent example, workers who cannot don masks in the course of their work are exempted from the general rule requiring one to wear a mask outside their home.

In the same vein, employers may be exempted in certain situations from a general ban on contacting employees outside of regular office hours. These situations include where an employee has worked less than eight hours a day or where an employer pays an overtime rate for such contact. Such exemptions may also be granted on application to and approval by the relevant ministry.

To use another example, the Legal Profession (Qualified Persons) Rules allow law school graduates to apply to the Minister for Law for exemption from certain requirements for admission to the Bar.

Similarly, employers who have genuine reasons to contact their employees outside of regular office hours may be allowed to apply to the Manpower Minister to be exempted from a general ban on such contact.

That such laws are a new phenomenon should not be a reason not to enact them. Singapore is no stranger to being a pioneer in the field of legislation. In fact, we were recently one of the first jurisdictions in the world to pass anti-fake news legislation.

This shows that our legislators are clearly creative enough to enact legislation that is not "too rigid".

Furthermore, Mr Zaqy has acknowledged that work-life balance is something the Government should help to manage.

However, the reality is that many local employers still expect their employees to remain contactable and answerable to them at all times.

If work-life balance is to be better managed, it is clear that actions more concrete than non-binding advisories are called for.

Edward Nicholas Ong Yu Xiang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2020, with the headline ''Right to disconnect' law key to better work-life balance'. Subscribe