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Committee of Supply Speech (Part 4) by Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower, 08 March 2007, 10:25 AM,

Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower

Workplaces for Optimal Performances

STRATEGIC WSH INTERVENTIONS

Overview of WSH Performance

1.   Let me first highlight the progress that we have made in the area of workplace safety and health. Last year, MOM replaced the decades-old Factories Act with the Workplace Safety and Health Act. This is a key milestone in the overhaul of the workplace safety and health framework, in order to achieve the target of halving the workplace fatality rate by 2015.

2.   Our efforts have started to pay off. The total number of deaths at our workplaces fell from 71 in 2005 to 62 in 2006. Correspondingly, the workplace fatality rate in 2006 was 3.1 per 100,000 workers, a 22% reduction from 4.0 in 2005, and a reduction of more than one-third from 4.9 in 2004. While construction remained one of the riskiest sectors, accounting for almost 40% of the workplace fatalities in 2006, the absolute number of construction fatalities has fallen compared to 2005. The Workplace Safety and Health Advisory Committee, or WSHAC, will be releasing a more detailed analysis of the workplace fatalities and injuries that occurred in 2006 later this month.

National WSH Strategy (WSH 2015)

3.   We have also made progress in charting the strategic direction for WSH. The WSHAC and MOM have jointly developed a National Workplace Safety and Health Strategy called WSH 2015 to map out a national, strategic and long-term approach towards improving WSH. More than 1,500 stakeholders were consulted in the process. It also received a strong endorsement by the International Advisory Panel for Workplace Safety and Health last year. This extensive consultation is important in building up ownership by industry for safety and health standards. WSH 2015 will be the national blueprint to bring together stakeholders to drive the implementation of the WSH framework in Singapore.

4.   To specifically address safety standards in the construction industry, the WSHAC and MOM have also developed a Construction Strategy to complement WSH 2015. The construction strategy takes into account the specific challenges in the sector and recommends sector-specific measures based on the broad directions of WSH 2015.

Extension of the WSH Act

5.   While we continue to raise the workplace safety and health performance in construction sites, shipyards and general factories, the intention is to ensure that workers in all workplaces are protected. As announced in Parliament last year when the WSH Act was passed, my Ministry will cover all workplaces under the Act in three to five years. We will do so in phases.

6.   This approach will ensure a sustainable build up, with industry ownership. MOM will roll-out the next phase of workplaces to be included under the WSH Act on 1 March 2008. These will be sectors that either have higher accident rates or where the potential consequences of any accident can be serious.

7.   The six selected sectors are:

a. Services allied to the transport of goods, such as logistics, freight forwarding and cargo surveying services;

b. Landscape care and maintenance service activities, such as grass-cutting;

c. Water supply, sewerage and waste management, such as refuse disposal;

d. Hotels and restaurants;

e. Healthcare activities such as hospitals; and

f. Veterinary activities.

8.   This will allow a reasonable timeframe for the affected companies to build up their capabilities to comply with the Act. Stakeholders in these sectors have been consulted and my Ministry will continue to work with them to address their concerns in the coming months, and also offer compliance assistance to help them. Specifically, we will extend the Risk Management Assistance Fund to small and medium enterprises, or SMEs, in these six sectors, to help them build up capabilities to conduct comprehensive risk assessments.

Industry-Driven Initiatives

9.   I am heartened to note that many organisations have already taken the initiative to enhance the safety and health at their workplaces, even when they are not legally required to do so under the WSH Act as yet. For example, NTUC led the formulation of a set of guidelines on safe work procedures to guide contractors involved in town council cleaning and custodial services. NTUC also secured the commitment of 55 cleaning companies that have pledged to make the work environment safer and healthier for their workers.

10. MOM supports such industry-driven or tripartite initiatives to improve workplace safety and health. Many of the initiatives headed by the WSHAC, which is industry-led with tripartite representation, are funded by MOM. Last year, MOM together with the WSHAC and our tripartite partners - NTUC, SNEF and SBF - jointly organised a seminar on workplace safety and health. MOM officers also provide technical assistance to industry associations to develop risk compendiums, guidelines and codes of practice.

Risk Assessment

11. The Risk Management Regulations came into effect only in September last year and my officers from the Occupational Safety and Health Division have been offering assistance to companies to meet the requirements. Since September, we have also issued more than 1,200 Notices of Non-Compliance to companies as a warning for them to improve their risk assessment measures. Of the 470 companies inspected in January 2007, about 30% have implemented risk assessment. This is not unexpected because our inspections are generally targeted at sectors and companies with weak safety management systems or poorer safety records. Nevertheless, industry capability is gradually being built up in this respect, for example with the help of the Risk Management Assistance Fund, and we expect this proportion to increase.

WSH Training and Competency of Workers

12.Another important area is safety training for workers so that they can recognise potentially hazardous situations, understand their responsibilities under the WSH Act and know their roles in creating safe work conditions. The WSHAC and MOM are reviewing how to ensure that workers are adequately trained prior to and during the course of employment, especially for those working in high-risk sectors.

Safety of Foreign Domestic Workers

13. The Ministry has similarly introduced mandatory safety awareness courses for first-time foreign domestic workers, or FDWs, and employment orientation programmes for first-time employers since April 2004. In 2006, we have also introduced a set of new measures to better educate FDWs on their rights and duties, including circulating a 6-monthly newsletter for FDWs, conducting random interviews with first-time FDWs, and including safety messages on the 6-monthly medical examination envelopes. Additionally, we issued an employment guide to inform all FDW employers of their responsibilities.

14. Apart from promotional and educational efforts, the Ministry has stepped up enforcement against employers who wilfully put their FDWs at risk. In 2006, two employers were fined for endangering the lives of their FDWs, while one employer was jailed after her FDW fell to her death while hanging laundry from a ledge.

15. With the introduction of all these measures, the total number of FDW deaths in 2006 fell by 35%, from an annual average of 37 deaths over the past six years. Nonetheless, there is still room for improvement and the Ministry will continue to do more in this area.

16. In line with my Minister's announcement that MOM will review the compensation system for injured workers under the Workmen's Compensation Act, we will also be reviewing the compensation for FDWs who are injured. FDW employers are currently required by the Ministry to purchase a Personal Accident Insurance for their FDWs. We will consider raising the minimum coverage of this insurance. Details will be announced at a later stage.

ENABLING WORKPLACE PRACTICES

17. The second issue that I will address today relates to the importance of work-life harmony and the need for flexible work arrangements. Effective work-life strategies are beneficial to both employers and employees. They are likely to make employees more engaged and motivated at their workplaces, thereby raising their performance.

18. This is why MOM, together with the tripartite partners, has been actively promoting work-life strategies since 2004, including recognising family-friendly organisations through the Work-Life Excellence Award. A key partner is the Employer Alliance, which comprises 95 forward-thinking and like-minded CEOs who are committed to promoting work-life to their fellow CEOs. Over the coming year, MOM will continue to support the work of the Employer Alliance as they develop programmes to bring more employers on board.

Topping Up of WoW! Fund

19. There is room for more flexible work arrangements for the workforce. Our approach is to educate employers of these possibilities and for them to see the business case for doing so. To facilitate the implementation of work-life strategies, MOM launched the $10 million Work-life Works! or WoW! Fund in August 2004. SMEs currently account for more than 90% of the approved projects to build their work-life capabilities and facilitate flexible work arrangements. A significant number of companies have used the WoW! Fund to invest in systems to support telecommuting.

20. One example is a small firm called Financial Alliance Pte Ltd. With the WoW! Fund, Financial Alliance assessed the needs of their employees and the business, organised work-life training and introduced a telecommuting project for their employees. The result is a win-win outcome for both the company and the staff, with improved productivity, more satisfied customers, reduced healthcare costs and no employee turnover since the project started a year ago.

21. Another example is Fei Yue Family Service Centre. The WoW! Fund enabled employees of Fei Yue, especially the middle managers, to undergo extensive work-life training, provided payroll support for their employees to drive the implementation of family-friendly workplace practices, and enabled Fei Yue to set up a network for telecommuting. I have been told that both employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction with Fei Yue's counselling services have improved as a result, and staff turnover has fallen.

22. By the middle of this year, the Fund will be fully committed and would have benefited over 400 companies. Given the positive responses, I am happy to announce that we will be topping up the WoW! Fund with another $10 million. This new stream of funding is expected to benefit more than 1,000 locally-based companies over the next 3 – 4 years. We will also be refining the funding criteria so as to encourage applicants to go beyond the typical measures like telecommuting, so that there is a greater diversity of the types of flexible work arrangements offered.

Maternity Leave

23. To complement the work-life efforts, maternity leave was extended from 8 weeks to 12 weeks in 2004 as part of the Marriage and Parenthood package. For the last 4 weeks of maternity leave, female employees have the option to take the leave flexibly over a period of 6 months from the child's birth, with mutual agreement from the employer.

24.The primary purpose of maternity leave is for the mother to recuperate after childbirth. Since the flexibility option was first introduced in 2004, we found that the take-up for such flexibility has not been high. More than 92% of mothers have opted to take their leave in a continuous stretch of 12 weeks. The current provision for flexibility was introduced after extensive consultation with all stakeholders. It is a fair position bearing in mind the overall purpose of maternity leave and the need to prevent excessive disruptions to business operations. As such, it may not be necessary to make changes to the maternity leave provision at this juncture.

25. As for statutory paternity leave, this should be assessed in relation to prevailing working patterns and leave entitlements. The 5-day work week is currently the norm and 40% of employees in the private sector enjoy 15 days or more annual leave. Under the Employment Act, employees are also entitled to 2 days' childcare leave per year if they have a child under the age of 7. Hence, it may not be appropriate to impose an additional burden on employers by legislating paternity leave. Nonetheless, Members may be pleased to know that a survey conducted by my Ministry shows that 43% of firms1 currently provide paid paternity leave even though it is not mandated.

CONCLUSION

26. In closing, I would like to reiterate that our manpower policies are working. Singaporeans have benefited from these policies. However, in the global race for talent, our efforts to meet the demand for manpower must be supported by strategies to optimise the quality and performance of our workplaces. We must strive for safer and healthier workplaces, with workplace arrangements that can enable our workers to enhance their contributions and optimise their productivity, whilst addressing their personal needs.


1 Firms here refer to those in the private sector with at least 25 employees.