Flexi-work scheme for firms extended and enhanced

Banyan Tree co-founder Claire Chiang (left) and Grab co-founder Tan Hooi Ling at the International Women's Day event yesterday.
Banyan Tree co-founder Claire Chiang (left) and Grab co-founder Tan Hooi Ling at the International Women's Day event yesterday.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Changes ease way for employers to get grant to help groups such as mums return to work

Employers will find it easier to get financial help for trying out flexible work arrangements from July this year, as part of a government bid to better help women achieve both career and family aspirations.

A scheme that funds companies so that they can help groups such as mothers get back to work will be enhanced and extended beyond its expiry date this month, said Second Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo yesterday.

"Women should not have to choose between full-time work and zero-time. To help companies provide more working options in between, I am happy to announce that we will extend and enhance the Work-Life Grant, which is due to expire in March 2018," she said in Mandarin at an International Women's Day event organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The WorkPro Work-Life Grant was rolled out in 2013, and has since been tapped by more than 1,500 companies that collectively employ more than 100,000 employees.

Funding from the $30 million enhanced grant, which will span two years, can be used for expenses such as creating infrastructure for a virtual private network so that employees can work from home, among other things.

Three changes will be made to the grant scheme after feedback was taken from firms, Mrs Teo said.

First, employers will find it easier to qualify for the grant. Instead of requiring at least 20 per cent of all employees to be on flexible work arrangements, the enhanced scheme requires each company to have just one employee working on such an arrangement.

Second, the quantum of the Work-Life Grant will be increased per employee, said Mrs Teo. Currently, employers are funded to the tune of $2,000 per employee over a year for the first five employees, and $1,500 for the subsequent 20. But the enhanced grant will fund employers $2,000 per employee over two years, up to 35 employees.

Finally, one form of a flexible work arrangement is job sharing, which entails the handover of work from one employee to another. The Government recognises that it is harder for employers to make such arrangements for professional, managerial, executive and technician jobs, said Mrs Teo.

To make this a more attractive option, the enhanced Work-Life Grant will provide a higher incentive of $3,500 per employee, instead of the current $2,000, she said.

"The higher grant per employee on flexible work arrangements, including job sharing, will provide more upfront support to help employers take the first step to encourage their employees to adopt flexible work arrangements," said Mrs Teo, urging employers to play their part and continue sustaining the adoption of such arrangements.

Employers told The Straits Times on the sidelines of the event that they welcomed the initiative.

Ms Claire Chiang, co-founder of luxury resort company Banyan Tree Holdings, said the enhancement of the Work-Life Grant signalled that "women can have it all".

"Government schemes, employer support all help in signalling the significance of women in the workplace... this will help prevent the loss of potential talent," said Ms Chiang, who added that flexible work arrangements are assessed on a case-by-case basis at Banyan Tree.

For example, a legal counsel who had family commitments was allowed to work from home, she said.

Ms Tan Hooi Ling, co-founder of ride-hailing firm Grab, said it offers all its employees, regardless of gender, flexible work arrangement schemes. For example, they are able to take three days of family care leave on top of their annual leave.

She added: "We recognise there are intangible benefits to offering flexibility. It allows them to focus on their work because they know they have the option of taking days off if they need to. We do this whether or not there are grants or schemes available. But with grants, it could allow us to do more."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2018, with the headline 'Flexi-work scheme for firms extended and enhanced'. Print Edition | Subscribe