Parliament: 4-day work week among ideas to improve work-life balance here

Office workers in Telok Ayer Street on June 3, 2020. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

A four-day work week and government-funded childcare leave to help parents cope with the Covid-19 situation were among the suggestions made by MPs in Parliament yesterday to improve the work-life balance of employees here.

Speaking during the debate on the Fortitude Budget, Nominated MP Mohamed Irshad highlighted that the pandemic has forced Singaporeans to adapt to new working arrangements within a very short period of time.

As Singapore prepares for phase two of its reopening, it should not return to its old ways of working, but instead build on the progress.

"I propose moving away from the traditional five-day work week to a four-day work week with the option of working from home on the fifth day, and even having a flexi-hours work model," said Mr Irshad.

He said that established firms like Microsoft have shown that a four-day work week can increase productivity by up to 40 per cent.

He also noted that a four-day work week is being considered in New Zealand to promote better work-life balance and boost domestic tourism to help the economy.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) also suggested that parents whose children need to stay at home due to Covid-19-related issues should be given extra childcare leave to take care of them.

"I hope the Government will consider introducing a government-paid Covid-related childcare leave and provide it at least until the end of phase 2 of the reopening after the circuit breaker," he said.

Mr Ng highlighted that parents will not have sufficient childcare leave this year, and the only option many of them are left with is to take unpaid leave.

"Indeed, many parents have shared that they are doing just that, but in this business climate, parents fear losing their jobs if they continue to take unpaid leave," said Mr Ng.

Government-paid extra childcare leave would ease the financial burden for employers and help the parents too, he added.

"For parents who are working from home, this Covid-related childcare leave can help take off the pressure of balancing competing work and childcare responsibilities.

"They can take this leave when needed, such as helping their child catch up with HBL (home-based learning) and their schoolwork."

He added that other countries have already adopted similar regulations.

In the United States, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act expands paid leave options for working parents, including those working from home, who are unable to find childcare arrangements, entitling them up to 12 weeks of partially paid family leave.

Mr Ng also cited Italy, where the government extended annual parental leave by 15 days for parents with children up to age 12.

Working from home is also a challenge for those with disabilities, Nominated MP Yip Pin Xiu said during the debate over the Fortitude Budget.

One issue is whether employers can adequately provide physically and financially the assistive devices and technology that employees with disabilities may need to continue working.

"Many of them (people with disabilities) face socio-economic challenges and may not be able to afford IT equipment, assistive aids and broadband to help them better cope with life in this period of time," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2020, with the headline Parliament: 4-day work week among ideas to improve work-life balance here. Subscribe