Parliament: Call to help caregivers return to work

Heng Chee How seeks more part-time, flexi-work options to tap latent manpower pool

Labour MP Heng Chee How has called for greater efforts to tap Singapore's "latent working population" by matching people with caregiving responsibilities to part-time jobs.

He believes that getting caregivers to work will help solve the current "structural mismatch" between the demand and supply for manpower, indicating that a change is overdue in the labour market which "has long been based on the full-time staffing model".

Mr Heng, who is Senior Minister of State for Defence, is deputy secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

He was the first of 10 labour MPs who spoke in Parliament yesterday, during the debate on this year's Budget statement.

In his speech, he pointed out that companies across many sectors have been "crying out for manpower to meet their needs".

Surveys have also shown that a significant proportion of women who quit their jobs to be caregivers would like to return to work if they can find part-time jobs that allow them to balance work and family, he added.

"This also means that if more companies have such options, many of those who had to quit to care for family would have been able to stay in work, earn and provide better for their immediate and longer-term needs," he said.


Mr Heng noted that there are only four sources any country can tap to get manpower.

The first is school-leavers entering the workforce, but these numbers "were set two decades ago".

Second, it can rely on industry transformation to improve productivity, so that the same number of people can create more economic value through their work.

The third is foreign manpower. But in Singapore's case, the size, mix and growth of this labour source have to be managed judiciously, said Mr Heng.

The fourth is making the best use of the working-age population, including those in the "latent pool".

Mr Heng added that Singapore's full-time mature worker employment rate is 67.1 per cent, which compares favourably with many of the developed nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

But the equivalent rate for part-time workers here is only 8.3 per cent.

As a result, it ranks 10th on the list of full-time employment rate for mature workers, but only 23rd when it comes to the part-time rate.

"This tells us that most Singapore companies have not yet learnt how to ably utilise and integrate part-time and other flexible work options into their mainstream manpower model or are, perhaps, also unwilling to do so," Mr Heng said.

"This is despite years of promoting flexible work arrangements by the tripartite partners at national and company levels."

Calling for a thorough review of how such work arrangements can fit into mainstream staffing models, he said: "We have to investigate mindsets, close knowledge gaps and consider incentives to open the way and grow the capacity."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2019, with the headline 'Call to help caregivers return to work'. Print Edition | Subscribe