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Speech by Minister Lim Swee Say in Response to Motion on Aspirations of Singaporean Women in Parliament

  1. Madam Speaker, I would like to thank Members for their views. On behalf of our tripartite partners, I want to assure the House that we share your passion and commitment for women to live fulfilling lives, without having to choose between their career and their family.
  2. When I was in the NTUC, I visited Denmark and met union leaders there. They told me that they are proud of the three achievements of Denmark women: high level of education, high employment rate and high Total Fertlity Rate of about 1.7.
  3. But most of all, Denmark ranked 4th in the happiness index, one of the highest in the world. So I asked them, what is their secret? They said that women in Denmark received very strong support from the government, employers, the community as well as their husbands. For example, it is socially unacceptable for husbands not to spend their weekends with their family. Certainly, there is much we can learn from Denmark.

  4. Through the concerted efforts of the tripartite partners, we have made steady progress in the past 10 years.
  5. First, employment rate of women (age 25-64) has increased steadily from 63% 10 years ago to 67% five years ago to 72% last year, bringing us from being 23rd compared to OECD countries, to 12th.
  6. Second, the median wage of women has gone up by 5.3% per annum over the last 10 years. This is similar to that for men (5.5%).
  7. Third, in terms of retirement adequacy, the average CPF balance of women has grown by 8.3% per year over the last ten years. This is faster than the growth rate of 7.7% for men, and closes the gap in average CPF balances between men and women from 16% to 11%.
  8. Fourth, the proportion of employees who work in companies offering formal Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) has grown from 56% in 2011 to 67% in 20161. 82% of employees also worked in firms that offer ad-hoc FWAs, up from 72% in 2011.
  9. Building on this steady progress, we will continue to strengthen our support for Singapore women, as expressed by Members, in four key areas.

  10. First, improve our female employment rate further. Broadly speaking, employment rate curves come in three different shapes: single hump, double hump and inverted U. Ours is currently the single hump: our employment rate peaks at age 25-29, and declines thereafter. This is unlike the case of Japan and Korea, where women re-enter the workforce from their mid-30s, creating a second peak in their employment rate at around age 50. This is also unlike the case of the Nordic countries, where women stay in employment for most of their adult life, thus forming a high and broad inverted U employment rate curve.
  11. Our challenge is to help more women stay in work, especially mothers, and for those who have left, to return to work. We will increase our efforts to raise adoption of FWAs by both employers and employees. In fact, I was told that some employees hesitate to take advantage of FWAs for fear of discrimination. In particular, we will give our strong support to NTUC’s “Returnship Programme”, and to encourage companies to offer more part-time and job sharing opportunities for those who are not ready to return to full-time employment.
  12. Second, helping women stay employable and be more future-ready. Under Adapt & Grow initiative, we are doing more to help workers learn new skills, be more adaptable, so that they can keep pace with changes in the future economy. This is especially important to women who have taken a career break due to family commitments. By the time they return to work, the world may have changed due to disruption. Some of them, if they go back to the same career, they would need to update their skills. So there is a lot more to be done. For some of them, being in the same career will no longer be an option. They have to take on a new career and would need to reskill themselves. Therefore, there’s a lot more that we need to do to support women, both in terms of helping them to stay in their current employment, or to take on a new career.
  13. Third, enhance the retirement adequacy of Singapore women. The transfer of CPF savings between spouses is a personal decision, and should be left to the couple to decide. It would be intrusive for the Government to mandate such transfers. However, we share Members’ concern whether spouses have sufficient retirement adequacy.
  14. What we have done is to relax the rules for spousal transfers and the response has been positive. Last year, we saw 70% more cases of spousal transfers, totalling $110 million, double the amount of the year before. In other words, more families, more members and CPF members are transferring their CPF savings to their spouses. This will enable more spouses to attain at least the Basic Retirement Sum and better meet their basic retirement needs through CPF LIFE.
  15. We have also introduced Silver Support last year for the bottom 20% of seniors who had low or no wages over their lifetime and currently have little or no family support. This is especially helpful for elderly women who were primary caregivers in their younger days.
  16. Fourth, strengthen HR practices for fair and equal treatment regardless of gender. Employers should set clear targets, conduct regular performance assessments, and appraise employees fairly based on work outcomes, regardless of whether they are on flexi-load, flexi-time or flexi-place work arrangements. This is advocated in the Tripartite Advisory on Flexible Work Arrangements2, and further reinforced in the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices. Of course, we are aware of employers who do not observe these guidelines. For employees who feel discriminated against, TAFEP will look into these complaints and refer cases to MOM for investigation where warranted.

  17. Overall, with our tripartite efforts, we have come some way in helping Singapore women to better manage their family responsibilities, work aspirations and personal needs. However, there is still much we can do.
  18. There are employers who provide a conducive and supportive environment for their female employees. From flexi-load at Shell, to flexi-place at DBS, and flexi-time at KPMG, just to name a few.
  19. Our next challenge is to grow this community of progressive employers and make such practices a common sight in Singapore. As announced at MOM’s Committee of Supply this year, the tripartite partners will be launching a series of Tripartite Standards to spread the public adoption of progressive workplace practices. Flexible work arrangements will be one of them.
  20. I thank Members for their many good and constructive suggestions. MOM, together with our tripartite partners, will study them and incorporate them into the Tripartite Standards where relevant. We will also sharpen our focus on supporting women in the implementation of our Adapt & Grow initiatives and CPF schemes. Women should not have to choose between family and career. We should support them to fulfil their aspirations in both.


  1. Source: Conditions of Employment Survey, Manpower Research & Statistics Department, MOM. Data pertain to establishments with at least 25 employees and the public sector.
  2. The Tripartite Advisory on Flexible Work Arrangements was launched by the Tripartite Committee on Work-Life Strategy in Nov 2014. The Tripartite Advisory guides employers on how to implement FWAs at their workplaces effectively. It also provides useful information to employees and supervisors about on requesting for FWAs and managing employees using FWAs. The tripartite advisory is available on MOM website.