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Success of FWAs requires constructive discussion between employers and employees

We refer to Ms Sugidha Nithi’s letter, “Legislate flexiwork if guidelines fail to spur change” (May 4, 2024).

The Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA) Requests require employers to consider formal FWA requests properly based on business grounds. The aim is to establish positive workplace norms and enable employees and employers to have constructive discussions to work out FWAs that are mutually beneficial.

Employers have the prerogative to decide on work arrangements that best meet the needs of their workers, business and clients.

This is the right approach to take if we want to encourage FWAs sustainably. There is no one-size-fits-all FWA that all businesses can implement.

The needs of businesses, industries and workers will vary. Taking an overly rigid approach could impact business operations and sustainability, to the detriment of not just businesses themselves, but the workers whom we seek to help, and the competitiveness of Singapore’s economy.

Legislation is not always the best solution for all workplace issues. It could lead to a more acrimonious and litigious workplace culture, which tripartite partners agree that we must avoid. Instead, we must continue to maintain the strong mutual trust and workplace harmony we enjoy in Singapore.

The guidelines thus seek to support employers and employees in understanding each other’s responsibilities and circumstances.

We agree that it is important to strengthen outreach and capability building efforts. The tripartite partners will press on with outreach and education efforts to help both employers and employees understand and comply with the guidelines.

From May 2024, employers and employees can tap various resources and programmes conducted by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices, the Institute for Human Resource Professionals, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation to better understand how to practise FWAs effectively. 

More information can be found on

Mr Tan Li Sheng
Divisional Director, Workplace Strategy and Policy Division
Ministry of Manpower

Consider legislation to aid success of flexible working arrangements

The Straits Times editorial on the tripartite guidelines on flexible work arrangement (FWA) requests noted that these compulsory guidelines signalled the normalising of such arrangements in the labour landscape (The normalisation of flexiwork, April 28).

These guidelines are a step in the right direction, but they are not legally enforceable. They may be categorised as “compulsory” but remain toothless. So the question is: Are employers obliged to apply these guidelines?

Since FWAs are not a common feature of our labour landscape, the only real and quick way to normalise them is to legislate them. The guidelines provide clarity for both employees and employers, such as how employees can request FWAs, how employers should evaluate these requests, and what does not constitute a good reason for refusing an FWA. The guidelines have template forms for employees to request an FWA, and for employers to respond to these requests.

However, sans legislation, achieving widespread adoption of FWAs will require more than just publishing the guidelines. We call for a national campaign via traditional and social media to raise awareness and education about FWAs, and to normalise their inclusion in the labour landscape. We also suggest training programmes and workshops for human resource professionals and managers.

Finally, it is critical to monitor the success of the guidelines over time _ both the rate of adoption by employers, and how well the guidelines are being put into effect in the workplace to evaluate the need for legislation. The Government should hold surveys or focus group discussions to measure this, with the results published to aid discourse. The Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices were published in 2007 and enhanced in 2011 and 2023. Yet they did not manage to rid workplaces of discrimination, which resulted in the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness recommending in 2023 (16 years later) that there should be legislation on this.

We should not wait so long to decide on legislation if the FWA guidelines do not spur the change we want to see. We therefore call for a review in three years on the rate of adoption and effectiveness of implementing the guidelines by employers. We recommend that at that point the Government should take the next step in legislation if the results are not satisfactory.

Sugidha Nithi
Director of Advocacy, Research and Communications