Parliament: One-stop portal, sector-specific support groups to promote flexi-work; online maid agency directory enhanced

Several MPs asked about flexi-work and care-giving issues during the debate, especially for women who have to juggle work and home responsibilities. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - A one-stop portal and sector-specific support groups were among a raft of new measures announced on Tuesday (March 3) to promote the uptake of flexible work arrangements among employers.

In outlining these initiatives, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower Low Yen Ling highlighted how the ongoing coronavirus outbreak has underscored the importance of flexi-work.

"Flexi-work arrangements have proven to be useful for both employers and employees, especially in business continuity planning when threats like Covid-19 strike," she told the House.

Several MPs asked about flexi-work and care-giving issues during the debate, especially for women who have to juggle work and home responsibilities.

In her reply, Ms Low emphasised the Government's commitment to making workplaces fairer and more progressive for women, and said it will make offering flexi-work options easier for employers.

First, resources to address sector-specific challenges in adopting flexi-work will be developed, said Ms Low.

This includes piloting employer support groups through the Institute for Human Resource Professionals to share best practices.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices' website will also become a one-stop flexi-work resource for firms, and consolidate flexi-work implementation guides.

There will be a free online tool as well to help employers include flexi-work clauses in their employee contracts, she added.

Noting that implementing flexi-work can be quite daunting for new firms, she said the Government will have a basic workshop for such businesses.

Their efforts will be recognised by a new provisional tripartite standard on flexi-work arrangements, while more progressive firms can adopt a new standard on work-life harmony.

Ms Low acknowledged calls by several MPs to introduce legislation on different issues, namely, the right to request less working hours, for employers to provide flexi-work options, as well as parent care and paid eldercare leave.

But she said a citizen's panel on work-life harmony that gave the Government recommendations prized flexibility over legislation.

"Legislation is not the silver bullet," she said, adding that a more practical approach was to give employers more choice on various types of flexi-work arrangements.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) replied that flexi-work may not be accessible to everyone, for example, front-line workers highlighted in the nation's coronavirus response.

He added that it was not a "zero-sum game" - the Government can both encourage flexi-work and increase leave at the same time.

Replying, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said: "We do not live in an ideal world."

Citing then Labour Minister S. Rajaratnam, who introduced the Employment Bill in 1968, Mrs Teo said: "In order for us to be able to protect employees, we must first have employment."

His comments remain valid today, she said, and employment conditions for all workers will be improved "at the right time".

Ms Low also announced an enhanced online directory for foreign domestic worker (FDW) employment agencies, to be launched in the second quarter this year.

The directory will display customer ratings of agencies' services, its policies on FDW replacement and refunding placement loans, and let agencies showcase niche services like FDWs with caregiving skills.

The Manpower Ministry had introduced an online customer rating system for agencies in 2016 to raise industry standards.

The enhanced directory will provide greater transparency for employers to make better informed decisions, said Ms Low.

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