Budget debate: Make adjustments to help amid rise in numbers working from home, say MPs

The ability to work from anywhere will increase competition for jobs and Singapore needs to prepare for it. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - A rethink of Singapore's approach to manpower, housing and work culture is needed, given the Covid-19-induced rise in telecommuting and how employees can work from anywhere, said MPs.

Mr Melvin Yong (Radin Mas), assistant secretary-general of labour movement National Trades Union Congress, told Parliament that the ability to work from anywhere will increase competition for jobs and Singapore needs to prepare for it.

Speaking during the debate on the Budget statement, he warned that competition can come from "literally anywhere in the world", especially in this age of seamless connectivity, and that Singapore workers might lose out.

He said: "Will our Work Pass and Employment Pass regime remain relevant when companies no longer need employees to be physically based in one location to perform the work?

"How long will this conventional system of balancing our local-foreign workforce mix continue to serve us?"

Similarly, Mr Sharael Taha (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) also highlighted the importance of keeping Singapore's workforce relevant in the global job market by equipping it with the right skills, mindset and attitudes needed to thrive in a remote working environment.

Mr Yong called for a return to bigger HDB flats so that employees can have more space for both their professional and personal lives, which will help in coping with the pressures of working from home.

He noted that in the 1980s, a four-room HDB Model "A" flat would come with a floor area of 105 sq m to 108 sq m, which is much bigger than today's new four-room flats with a floor area of about 90 sq m.

The smaller size means that people might have less space to do their work and be productive, said Mr Yong. Parents would find this even tougher, given how they are easily distracted by their children or by other things in the house that need their attention.

"With more working and learning from home, is it time for us to return to building bigger HDB flats once again? An extra 15 sq m can provide Singaporeans with a study room that can also double up as a home office," he said.

Mr Sharael wants a suitable work culture for remote working, and suggested that rather than having their workers clock a set number of hours, employers set out clear work targets to manage the output of their teams.

Employees should also do their part, he added.

"Employees are expected to be more self-directed and not take advantage of the flexibility afforded to them due to remote working," he said.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.