MPs suggest ways to level playing field for women

While the workforce participation rate for men aged between 25 and 54 is 92 per cent, that for women is 78 per cent. To tackle this, MPs called for flexi-work options among other ideas.
While the workforce participation rate for men aged between 25 and 54 is 92 per cent, that for women is 78 per cent. To tackle this, MPs called for flexi-work options among other ideas.ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM
MS TIN PEI LING (MacPherson)
MS TIN PEI LING (MacPherson)

They highlight challenge of juggling home and work demands, wage disparity with men

Armed with statistics, suggestions and plenty of passion, eight MPs took to the floor yesterday to call for more to be done to help women juggle their family commitments and career goals.

It was the first time Parliament debated a proposal to express support for women in Singapore, noted Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson), one of five female MPs who moved the motion.

"Women are not asking for special treatment or privileges. But there are pragmatic, concrete steps that the nation can take in various areas that would help women to achieve their aspirations," she said.

The MPs noted that while the gap between women and men has narrowed greatly over the past few decades, women still face challenges coping with the demands of home and office.

Most women shoulder the bulk of housework and taking care of children or elderly parents, but many stop working when it becomes too difficult to do so while caring for the family, they said.

While the labour force participation rate for men aged between 25 and 54 is 92 per cent, the rate for women in that same range is only 78 per cent. The drop occurs after the 25 to 29 age bracket - the age when many women start families, said Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung.

One key gap is the gender imbalance in our workforce, where women tend to be under- represented at the higher levels... This is not because men are inherently more capable or more driven than women... Rather, it is because our society does not fully provide the support that women need to achieve their aspirations in the family, community and workplace at the same time.

MS TIN PEI LING (MacPherson), on gender gaps at work. 

He also noted a significant wage disparity, in which women receive about 85 per cent of men's pay.

Many firms don't offer long-term flexi-work because they are scared it will affect their productivity or they don't trust their staff. They're afraid 'working from home' will turn into 'shirking from home'. But studies show that this isn't the case.

MS LEE BEE WAH (Nee Soon GRC), on flexible work arrangements. 

Working mums often have to work three shifts a day - a day shift in office as an employee, an evening mummy or wife shift where they need to fulfil their family responsibilities, and a night shift where they would check their e-mails and prepare for next day's work after their kids have gone to bed.

MR DARRYL DAVID (Ang Mo Kio GRC), on the burden on working mothers.

To tackle this, MPs including Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan) and Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) called for more flexi-work arrangements so women would not have to choose between having children or a career.

This should include working from home, said Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), citing statistics that showed only 6.2 per cent of firms here allow their workers to work from home permanently.

Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) asked the Government to consider a pilot that allows workers to request flexi-work arrangements.

Other popular suggestions include improving childcare and eldercare facilities, and providing skills training or course credits to help mothers who have stopped working re-enter the workforce.

"Many of them do not have much savings and would hesitate to ask for money from their husbands or children to attend classes," said Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC).

Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) also suggested dedicated programmes to help back-to-work mothers catch up with technology.

Mr Ong replied that SkillsFuture Singapore will launch a national drive called SkillsFuture Engage, in which advisers will visit communities to guide people in picking relevant courses. He added: "We will build in a plan to reach out to back-to-work women."

On eldercare leave, however, Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min said the Government is not ready to legislate it right now, due to business costs and manpower constraints.

MPs also suggested automatic transfers of Central Provident Fund savings from a working husband to his non-working wife, so that housewives will have greater financial security in their old age.

Men also have a part to play, whether in respecting women as equals or doing more to keep their homes clean, said Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera, who added: "Singapore men can and should do more at home."

About a dozen more MPs will join the debate when Parliament sits today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2017, with the headline 'MPs suggest ways to level playing field for women'. Print Edition | Subscribe