Challenging to have laws to keep dialysis patients at work, more flexible arrangements needed: Koh Poh Koon

Workers who need dialysis treatment are protected against discrimination through the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, said Mr Koh Poh Koon.
Workers who need dialysis treatment are protected against discrimination through the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, said Mr Koh Poh Koon.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Rather than legislating requirements for more childcare leave or for dialysis patients to remain in the workforce, the Government will continue to encourage more employers to offer flexible work arrangements to deal with these challenges, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon on Tuesday (Aug 3).

He was responding in Parliament to questions from several MPs on the measures taken to protect such patients from workplace discrimination, and if additional leave can be given to parents who have experienced childcare centre closures due to the spread of Covid-19.

Mr Sharael Taha (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) had asked if more can be done to encourage work-from-home employment for dialysis patients.

He highlighted the plight of some residents in their late 30s and early 40s who struggle to find employment, as their dialysis treatment takes place three to four times a week.

In response, Dr Koh said: "I think it's quite clear that we all desire to make sure that we help the vulnerable among us, whether it's a person on kidney dialysis or a person with a physical disability, to continue to remain in the workforce."

But there are very diverse workplace arrangements, job roles and requirements, he said. "Legislating a requirement like this would be probably challenging to implement, because different businesses have different operating models and may have different needs."

Instead, engagement with employers should continue, such as through the labour movement, to help employers design jobs so that more people with disabilities or those on dialysis can continue to contribute to the workforce, he said.

"This is an ongoing effort and we will continue to engage with our stakeholders."

In a separate question on the impact of childcare centre closures, Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) said he has learnt of instances from parents where employers are "not enlightened" about flexible work arrangements. He said such closures could last for more than 14 days.

In response, Dr Koh urged employers to adopt a more flexible attitude.

"If we take a very legalistic approach and only wait to act when there is a guidance given, then I think we may actually be behind the curve in trying to deal with workplace transmissions."

It is also in the employer's interest, he said, to ensure that any employee who may have a family member at risk of transmitting the virus be kept away from the workplace. "That is part of business continuity planning as well," he said.

Employees who feel that they are unfairly treated or discriminated as a result of their need to care for their child or family can raise their concerns to the Ministry of Manpower or the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep), he added.

Dr Koh, in his reply to the earlier question on dialysis patients, noted that 93 per cent of firms offered some form of formal or ad hoc flexible work arrangements to employees. This is based on the MOM's Conditions of Employment survey last year.

Workers who need dialysis treatment, or have any other medical conditions, are protected against discrimination through the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, which are based on the principles of fair and merit-based employment practices at the workplace, he said.

To ensure greater success in the implementation of flexible work arrangements, employees are also encouraged to proactively engage their supervisors on their personal responsibilities and circumstances, he said.

This allows both sides to discuss various arrangements that meet employers' business needs while enabling employees to manage their personal responsibilities, added Dr Koh.