Budget debate: More support for flexi-work to boost workforce and businesses

Provision of flexible work arrangements will be announced in the upcoming White Paper on women's development in Singapore. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Flexible work arrangements will continue to be in place despite the loosening of pandemic measures, and the Government will provide more support for businesses and caregivers - especially women - to tap the opportunities to join or return to the workforce.

Provision of such work arrangements will be announced in an upcoming White Paper on women's development in Singapore, said Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang.

Speaking during the debate on the Manpower Ministry's budget on Monday (March 7), Ms Gan said one in four workers is now employed by firms that have adopted the Tripartite Standard on Flexible Work Arrangements, and the numbers are growing.

"In 2021,73 per cent of companies that adopted flexible arrangements said they were likely to continue offering them post-Covid-19," she said.

Where remote work is not possible, the Government encourages employers to consider other forms of flexible work arrangements, like flexi-shift scheduling, staggered work hours and job sharing, which offer workers flexibility.

Arrrangements such as "flexi-time, flexi-workplace or flexi-workload" will allow not only more women to keep working, but also more men to share caregiving duties at home, she said.

Despite shouldering most of the caregiving work during the pandemic, more women aged 25 to 64 entered the workforce. The number grew from 73.2 per cent in 2020 to 75.1 per cent in 2021.

The Government will not, however, legislate flexible work arrangements or other workplace practices such as after-hours communication, mandatory breastfeeding breaks or leave provisions, she said, but will instead "focus on equipping employers to find the right balance between supporting employees' needs and business needs".

Britain and Australia have legislation allowing employees to demand flexi-work arrangements but employers can reject them on business grounds, she added.

On medical leave, Ms Gan said the tripartite partners maintain that employees should produce a medical certificate (MC) when utilising sick leave to deter "malingering and maintain a more disciplined workforce".

The exception was made during this pandemic to alleviate the stress on the healthcare system.

The Employment Act does not, however, prohibit employers from waiving MCs and firms can adopt that as a part of their human resources strategies.

Ms Gan also said that the Household Services Scheme (HSS) launched in 2017 will be broadened to include basic child-minding and elder-minding services to support caregivers in the second half of this year.

Currently, HSS migrant workers provide cleaning or housekeeping services to multiple households on a part-time basis.

She said MOM will study the industry's best practices and engage households and HSS companies as it works out implementation details.

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