Flexible work arrangements key to future: Tan See Leng

Flexible arrangements are a good way to bring more people into the workforce. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Flexible work arrangements are the way forward, especially as they help more women and mature workers participate in the labour force, said Manpower Minister Tan See Leng at a panel discussion on Friday (May 6).

He also spoke about the future of the gig economy and how it can include more diverse jobs.

Dr Tan participated in a panel discussion held in conjunction with the launch of the Tripartite Collective at Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay hotel.

The collective facilitates the exchange of ideas on issues faced by employers and employees.

It also hopes to foster the spirit of tripartism in Singapore - that is, collaboration among the Government, employers and the labour union.

Regarding the future of work, Dr Tan said: "I think the next key disruption is going to be flexible work arrangements. The Manpower Ministry, together with the tripartite partners, has developed these standards. We hope that everyone will support this and eventually, in about a year from now, we... will be able to come up with some guidelines."

Flexible arrangements are also a good way to bring more people into the workforce, such as women with caregiving responsibilities and mature workers, he said.

He noted that there are about 260,000 women aged 25 to 64 and 120,000 residents aged 65 to 69 who are outside the labour force.

"So if you add the two groups together with an emboldened, enlightened and optimised flexible work arrangement, we have potentially close to 400,000 people coming back to the workforce. Think about how that will power our economy and our industries," he said.

Fellow panellist Robert Yap, who is president of the Singapore National Employers Federation, added that there are many forms of flexible work arrangements, and that everyone has to be open and innovative in the way they are carried out.

Labour chief Ng Chee Meng noted that as a big employer, NTUC also co-created policies around flexible work arrangements, even as all workers are allowed to return to the workplace.

Meanwhile, Ninja Van chief executive Lai Chang Wen said returning to the office is still vital for building relationships between people.

"One of the simpler things we've done is having everyone come to the office at a fixed time. Once (coming to the office) becomes too flexible, people are never certain who's in, and you lose that interaction. We have no clock-off time. You can come for an hour and then go home," he said.

The panel also discussed the possibilities of gig work and the challenges it poses.

Dr Tan said: "The gig economy is seeing massive growth. One very optimistic thought is that the gig economy will go beyond logistics and transportation... it should transcend boundaries and borders where there are opportunities for a particular professional role or corporate advisory role. I see that as a very positive development."

He also noted that the issue of gig workers provides an opportunity for tripartism. He added that the tripartite members have come together to study the challenges of self-employed platform workers and see how to improve their rights.

NTUC president Mary Liew said there are more than 48,000 self-employed people who are now union members.

At an earlier panel in the same event, former Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said: "All three of us cannot live without each other. If any one of us thinks that we can solve the problems of the world all on our own, then tripartism will break down...

"What has brought us to where we are today is that we are pro-business, pro-workers and pro-future."

Mr Lim, who is also adviser to the new Tripartite Collective, said that what sets Singapore apart is the tripartite desire not just to survive, but also to build capacity so everyone can emerge stronger from times of crisis.

It is not about compromising, but harmonising to create a win-win situation for the Government, employers and workers, he added.

A report on tripartism presented at the event noted that such cooperation helped Singapore to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, by supporting firms and helping them redeploy workers.

But it added that challenges remain, such as an increasingly diverse workforce that includes gig workers and technological acceleration that can displace more workers.

Still, tripartism remains a key enabler in facing the difficulties that lie ahead, such as rising prices and supply chain disruptions, said Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang in her closing speech.

"There is shared purpose, shared mission, shared values, and all of us moving towards a common direction," she added.

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