NTUC to look at ways to increase employment rates of middle-aged women who are caregivers

NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How with caregiver Koh Leh Choo, 61, works as a part-time homecare nurse at NTUC Health. ST PHOTO: JEV AKSHAY JEEVAN

SINGAPORE - The labour movement will look at ways to increase the employment rates of middle-aged women, many of whom indicated in a survey last year that they do not look for work because of caregiving duties.

In order to do that, the National Trades Union Congress said it will consider the types of eldercare services in the community that need to be provided and how they can be funded.

It said a reform of employment models to include flexible work options is also critical.

"There must be enough quality yet affordable eldercare services in the community for caregivers to entrust their family care recipients to, so that they would not need to quit their work entirely in the first instance, or to be able to take on part-time work if they cannot take on full-time jobs," NTUC said in a statement on Friday (Feb 15).

The labour movement will collaborate with the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to study, recommend and subsequently implement ways to get more middle-aged women to join the workforce.

"It is crucial for all Singaporeans, including caregivers, to have the chance and choice to earn a steady source of income to meet current expenses and more importantly, to strengthen their retirement adequacy," NTUC said.

A 2018 Manpower Ministry survey showed there were 168,300 female residents aged 40 to 59 who were not in the 2.3 million-strong labour force.

Of these women outside the labour force, one in five indicated that she did not seek employment because she had to care for family members, other than children.

The announcement of the tripartite follows the debate in Parliament on Wednesday in which MPs called for caregivers to be given more support.

Among other things, they had proposed greater financial assistance in the form of grants, as well as more flexible work arrangements.

NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How said the mindset of employers must also be changed to increase their willingness to hire part-time employees and workers with flexible schedules.

But he said that "unions can only do so much" as jobs and how jobs are structured are determined by employers.

Besides changing mindsets, the labour movement believes strengthening know-how and devising the right incentives are important.

"I am not promoting a switch from full-time to part-time work for the sake of it. I am promoting it so that those who have no work can at least work part-time," said Mr Heng.

Caregiver Koh Leh Choo, 61, works as a part-time homecare nurse.

She was employed as a full-time nurse until February 2017 but was forced to resign to look after her father, who is now 87 years old.

"I can't work full time as my father needs to frequently visit the hospital. I want to be there for him," she said.

After more than a year without work, Ms Koh said she struggled to keep up with expenses.

She also found it difficult to find another job as many employers were not keen to hire part-time employees, and because of her age.

About three months ago, she secured a job with NTUC Health.

"I feel more at peace and I'm comforted that I have a steady income while at the same time, I'm able to care for my father," Ms Koh said.

Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.

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