Staff requests for flexi-work arrangements must be considered by employers by 2024

Employers can consider their business needs when assessing whether or not to grant approval. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - By 2024, employers must consider staff requests for flexible work arrangements fairly and properly, under a new set of guidelines for such arrangements.

But employers can consider their business needs when assessing whether or not to grant approval.

In the interim, the Government aims to increase the adoption of a voluntary tripartite standard on flexible work arrangements by employers, covering 27 per cent of all employees currently, to 40 per cent by the end of this year.

It will continue to sustain ground-up efforts that support work-life harmony and encourage a greater utilisation of parental leave, with the public service taking the lead.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang said: "Flexible work arrangements or FWAs will remain a key feature of our workplaces well after the pandemic is over. This is a win-win situation for employers and employees."

She added: "FWAs benefit both women and men, and will enable those with caregiving responsibilities to continue working or return to work. In this way, employers can access a wider talent pool. FWAs will also help employers transform their businesses to be future-ready, as well as better attract and retain talent."

Among employees aged 25 to 64 who required FWAs, nine in 10 had access to the FWA that they required in 2020, up from six in 10 in 2014, noted the White Paper on Singapore Women's Development that was released on Monday (March 28).

Last year, 73 per cent of companies that offered FWAs indicated that they were likely to continue doing so after the pandemic. Sixty-three per cent said they were willing to allow employees who can work from home to retain the practice at least half the time.

The Tripartite Advisory on FWAs provides guidance to companies on how to implement such initiatives.

There are three sets of tripartite standards on FWAs, work-life harmony and unpaid leave for unexpected care needs that recognise employers who voluntarily put in place recommended practices.

The Alliance for Action on Work-Life Harmony in 2021 rallied the community, employers and employees to take ownership of strengthening work-life harmony through knowledge-sharing Communities of Practice and jointly developing resources to support the implementation of work-life practices at workplaces.

The White Paper also proposes enshrining the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (TGFEP) in law.

The guidelines encourage employees who have experienced workplace discrimination and harassment to seek help, with the assurance of confidentiality and protection from retaliation against them.

Workplaces are urged to put in place grievance handling processes and provide a fair and safe environment to report discrimination or harassment.

Ms Gan said enshrining the TGFEP in law will send a stronger signal that unfair employment practices of all forms, including against women, are not tolerated.

"With legislation, we will broaden the range of remedies and penalties, and have more effective enforcement," she added. "However, we have to scope the legislation carefully, so that it provides greater protection and assurance to workers while guarding against a litigious workplace culture."

Though it is rolling out legislation by end-2022 to enforce against bad behaviour at the workplace, the Government recognises that mediation is still preferred to preserve a harmonious relationship between the employer and employee.

Ms Gan said the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness has been engaging widely with different stakeholders and aims to share its recommendations later this year.

The Government will also develop career mentorship, networking opportunities and training programmes for working women and those re-entering the workforce.

These will augment the suite of programmes and services from Workforce Singapore (WSG).

The Manpower Ministry and WSG will be working with more partners, especially women's organisations, to help more women to seek jobs and upskill.

To facilitate greater women's representation in leadership roles and overcome existing gender stereotypes, the Singapore Exchange Listing Rules and Practice Guidance on the Code of Corporate Governance were also revised to enhance board diversity, including gender diversity, in listed companies.

The Council for Board Diversity will continue to lead efforts to increase women's representation on boards.

Commenting on the White Paper, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) president Mary Liew said: “We are heartened by the progressiveness of the action plans shown in the White Paper. NTUC has been championing the rights of women since the 1970s and has created many programmes and initiatives such as the Back to Work Programme in 2006 to support women in the workplace through the decades.”

She added: “The NTUC women’s committee was also one of the first groups to champion for flexible work arrangements in the 1990s, and we have since been engaging our tripartite partners closely to further our outreach for the implementation of flexible work arrangements, which we hope to see greater support for moving forward.”

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