Speech at Committee of Supply 2019
Senior Parliamentary Secretary Low Yen Ling, Parliament House of Singapore
- Mr Chairman, Minister Josephine Teo and Minister of State Zaqy spoke about our efforts to provide better support and assurance for our workers, and how we can walk the tech journey together.
As we strive to improve our workers’ skills, wages and employability, workplaces should also be progressive and inclusive, so that each segment of the workforce is valued and can realise their potential. As DSG Heng Chee How mentioned in his budget speech, “Every Worker Matters to the overall good of our economy, our society and our country.” We will press on with our efforts to help young graduates get off to a good start in their careers. We will continue to support women so that they can fulfil both career and family aspirations. We will also do more to help ex-offenders find meaningful employment.
Headstart for young job seekers
- Young Singaporeans are the future of our nation, and we want to maximise opportunities for them to take up meaningful jobs and careers.
Among those graduating from our post-secondary educational institutions1, more than 8 in 10 who are actively seeking employment, are able to find employment within six months after graduation.
However, some may need more help in improving their job search skills to find suitable employment, as for most young people, it is their first time applying for a job.
MP Patrick Tay asked how graduating students can benefit from the Career Starter Programme, which I first announced last year.
Career Starter Programme: Tips, workshops & coaching
- The Career Starter Programme, which is part of Workforce Singapore’s (WSG) Adapt and Grow initiative, is supported by the ITE and Polytechnics. The Programme has three components:
- First, a Career Starter Pack. This is a resource pack that equips graduating students with useful information for their job search. About 28,000 graduating ITE and Polytechnic students have received the Career Starter Pack since January this year. Within the pack are useful tips and advice on what graduates should consider when applying for a job, where to find work opportunities, how to ace job interviews and managing their money when they start work.
Second, there are interactive Career Booster workshops to improve our young graduates’ job search strategies and skills. The workshops are designed to provide more hands-on help, such as good resume writing techniques, and approaches to the job search that can uncover different career opportunities.
Third, the Career Starter Programme offers personalised career coaching and other tailored support for graduating students who may require more in-depth assistance provided by career coaches from WSG’s Careers Connect.
Mr Muhamad Danial is a final year Hospitality student at ITE College West who has benefited from the Career Starter Programme. Danial found the commonly asked interview questions in the Career Starter Pack especially helpful in preparing him for interviews with prospective employers.
Danial is also amongst the first group of graduating ITE students who attended the Career Booster workshop. Through the workshop, he became more aware of his own career aspirations, and the importance of projecting a professional image at work.
Danial was also introduced to MyCareersFuture.sg, a job search platform that filters for suitable job openings based on his skills and interest. I am happy to hear that Danial will be using the portal for his job search and has also recommended the Career Starter Programme to his friends.
These efforts aim to arm our graduates with the knowledge of the job search process, help them understand their skills, career goals and interests, and give them greater clarity on their career direction. In so doing, we hope they will gain a good headstart to their work life.
Equipping and re-integrating ex-offenders
- The labour market is changing rapidly, with technology advancing and industries transforming. Those who have been out of the workforce for a significant period, like ex-offenders, are concerned about gaining relevant skills and reintegrating into society.
Mr Patrick Tay and Mr Chong Kee Hiong asked how we are supporting ex-offenders in employment. I am pleased to inform them that WSG works closely with the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (or SCORE) to help ex-offenders find gainful employment. Research conducted by the Singapore Prison Service has shown that when ex-offenders are meaningfully engaged in their jobs, it eases their reintegration into the community, which in turn helps to lower recidivism.
To arm ex-offenders with skills and improve their chances in employment, we have two programmes under the Adapt and Grow initiative - namely Project Phoenix and Career Trial. Since 2007, Project Phoenix has been providing training and employment assistance to ex-offenders to prepare them for re-integration into the workforce. More than 1,200 ex-offenders found jobs through this last year.
Ann* is one such example. Ann was convicted for drug consumption and was sentenced for 12-months in 2013. Through Project Pheonix, she underwent training to refine her communication and presentation skills before she was hired by Singapore River Cruise as a Customer Service Officer in 2014. As Ann did not have prior work experience in customer service, she initially found it difficult to handle customers. However, she managed to overcome this with guidance from a work buddy and a SCORE job coach. Over the last five years, Ann has been given many opportunities to learn and grow with the organisation. She has performed well and developed strong rapport with her co-workers. Today, Ann is a Supervisor and overseeing a team of over 30 staff in the company.
- Besides Singapore River Cruise, there are many other employers who partner SCORE to offer jobs to ex-offenders. Employers can tap on the Career Trial scheme which lets employers and job seekers try out work opportunities and assess if there is a job fit.
During the try-out period, which can be up to three months, jobseekers receive a training allowance from the Government. Employers who hire ex-offenders after the trial period receive salary support from the Government. Ex-offenders who stay in their new jobs for at least three months receive retention incentives. I am heartened to hear from SCORE that this programme has helped to attract more employers to come on-board to give ex-offenders a chance.
The Public Service also employs ex-offenders as officers are recruited based on individual merit. Since 2006, ex-offenders do not need to include information on their spent criminal records in their job application to public agencies. For a criminal record to be considered as “spent”, the offender must not have been sentenced to more than three months in prison or be fined above $2,000. They must also be crime-free for five years, among other criteria. For candidates with unspent criminal records, the public agencies would consider them against the light of the seriousness and circumstances of their offence, the time since their conviction, and the duties to be assumed.
We hope that more employers will step forward to offer job opportunities to ex-offenders who can prove to be valuable workers when given a second chance. The tight labour market and slowing workforce growth also present compelling reasons for employers to tap on every available worker.
Supporting women in the workplace
As we look to better support young graduates and ex-offenders, we are also committed to making our workplaces more progressive and inclusive for women.
- Today, we have a healthy employment situation for women in Singapore. Our female employment rate for those aged 25 to 64 has increased in the past decade. It rose from 65% in 2008 to 72% in 2018. In terms of women in full-time employment, we are now ranked 7th against 36 OECD countries. But our proportion of women in part-time employment is still below OECD average2. We recognise that there is still much that we can do, to better support women at workplaces. The Ministry’s Adapt and Grow initiative offers a suite of job matching services and other programmes to help jobseekers, including women who wish to return to the workforce. As Minister has announced, the Career Trial scheme will be enhanced to include part-time jobs as well, and this will expand the opportunities for those who are only able to work part-time.
We understand that most women juggle multiple roles - at work and at home. I agree with Professor Lim Sun Sun and DSG Heng that women need not be forced to choose between career and family. Career and family are not binary options. Instead, with the right workplace support, women can fulfil their career aspirations while meeting their family responsibilities.
Encourage greater adoption of FWAs
This was the key thrust of my speech at the recent parliamentary motions on Ageing with Purpose and Support for Caregivers. I spoke about the Government’s resolve to develop a workplace culture supportive of Flexible Work Arrangements (or FWAs) and the promotion of greater adoption of FWAs. Ms Jessica Tan and Mr Chong Kee Hiong will be pleased to know that as compared to five years ago, more workplaces in Singapore are offering FWAs.
We see the increase in FWA adoption across all sectors. About 7 in 10 of employees in Singapore now work in companies that offer at least one formal FWA, such as part-time work and flexi-time or staggered hours3. In addition, about 9 in 10 of workers today are in companies that provide at least one ad-hoc FWA, either unplanned time-off, ad-hoc teleworking or both.
The trend of higher FWA adoption across the board is not only good news for employees, it is also positive for companies. Among workplace practices, the provision of FWA has the greatest impact on staff retention4 which benefit companies with experienced and engaged workers.
Work Life Grant increased to $100m
We want to keep the momentum of FWA adoption going. In Parliament last month, I mentioned that the Work-Life Grant has received healthy application numbers since its launch, and the Government is exploring increases to the Work-Life Grant budget to make FWA adoption more pervasive. I am pleased to announce that the Ministry of Manpower will increase the Work-Life Grant budget to a total of $100 million, from the current $30 million. This will allow more companies to benefit from the grant to sustain their employees’ FWA adoption, including job-sharing by PMETs.
- As job-sharing is less well known and practised amongst employers today, the Ministry of Manpower and Singapore National Employers Federation are developing a job-sharing implementation guide for employers. The guide aims to raise awareness on job-sharing, and educate employers on the nuts and bolts of implementing such a scheme. Job-sharing would not only expand the range of FWAs options, it can enhance trust, commitment and work satisfaction between employees and employers. The job-sharing implementation guide will be launched by the first half of this year.
We are optimistic that more employers are recognising the value FWAs bring. Since the Tripartite Standard on FWAs was launched in October 2017, responses have grown. As of end January 2019, about 1,300 employers employing 400,000 employees have adopted the Standard. Key adopters of the Tripartite Standards include those in the public sector.
Our public service agencies are committed to creating a conducive work environment that allows officers to achieve good work and personal goals. This includes providing public officers with suitable FWA options. Take for example the Accountant-General’s Department (or AGD) in the Ministry of Finance. Two of its employees, Ms Lim Yu May and Ms Emily Kao were given a job-sharing arrangement in cash management and payment processing. This suited the two mothers well as they appreciated the newfound flexibility to look after their family needs. Yu May took the morning shift so she could be home for two primary school children. Emily, on the other hand, preferred to work in the afternoons while her toddler took his afternoon nap under her mother’s watch.
To ensure a smooth handover, Yu May and Emily would spend their overlapping hour at noon to exchange information and discuss what needed to be followed-up. They kept abreast of each other’s progress via an excel spreadsheet that was constantly updated. Their successful job-sharing arrangement lasted for about 1.5-years (Dec 2013 to June 2015).
- When Emily had her second child, she was granted extended maternity leave. Yu May took no-pay leave for 1.5-years to care for her children. I am happy to learn that both Yu May and Emily continue to serve in the AGD today. They have kept pace with their careers and training opportunities that the organisation offers. We hope more employers will step up their FWAs and gain from the experience and loyalty of committed staff.
- To spread the adoption of FWAs, we will work closely with our tripartite partners to reach out to trade associations, businesses, chambers and employers about the Work-Life Grant and the Tripartite Standard on FWAs.
Encouraging more FWAs will also support the employment of older workers, which the Minister for Manpower spoke about earlier. As our seniors age, there will be a growing need for greater flexibility in workplaces so as to meet their diverse needs and preferences. Many of them may wish to remain in the workforce but with reduced or differing work intensity.
- If we move towards a more inclusive work culture and mindset, we will be better placed to make the best of our talents. With family-friendly workplaces, employees can contribute their fullest potential without compromising their responsibilities to their loved ones. And age-friendly work practices let our seniors pass on valuable experience and knowledge as they work at their preferred pace and intensity.
Managing workplace harassment
As we try to harness the full capabilities of our workforce, I agree with Mr Patrick Tay and Mr Desmond Choo that workplace harassment is an area that deserves greater attention. A safe workplace allows employees to work optimally. For that to take place, both employers and employees must have an interest and responsibility in preventing and managing workplace harassment.
There are two broad categories of workplace harassment and they are dealt with differently.
- One, egregious cases for example, like the outrage of modesty and stalking belongs to the class of conduct which constitutes offences under the Penal Code and the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA). This kind of harassment will be addressed by the Courts or the Police and an affected employee may also seek civil remedies directly through the Courts, such as a Protection Order against the harasser.
- The other type of harassment pertains to behaviour that may not fall under the legal threshold for criminal investigations or civil recourse under POHA, but nonetheless distresses and affects employees. For example, actions without the intention to cause, and are unlikely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to a specific employee, but which may still cause discomfort and affect other employees.
- For cases that may not come under POHA, we want to ensure that companies have a robust grievance handling process to deal with such claims of workplace harassment. We also encourage companies to take clear steps to prevent and manage workplace harassment. These include:
• Being explicit about what is considered unacceptable behaviour at the workplace;
• Making clear the disciplinary actions that would be taken against perpetuators of workplace harassment;
• Having in place safe avenues for affected employees to surface their complaints to management for recourse; and
• Providing adequate support for affected employees. For example, giving them time off or the flexibility to work from home during the investigation and/or recovery period.
- In this regard, I am pleased to announce that the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (or TAFEP) will now be a help and resource centre for workplace harassment for both employers and employees.
First, TAFEP seeks to help companies put in place robust processes to manage workplace harassment complaints. Besides providing advice, TAFEP will provide a host of resources on its website that includes:
• A new introductory video on how to manage workplace harassment,
• A sample Workplace Harassment Prevention Policy that companies can incorporate in their HR policies, and
• A list of training providers employers may engage to train their supervisors in managing workplace harassment.
Second, TAFEP will also be an avenue for employees who face workplace harassment to seek advice and assistance. Affected employees can call (6838 0969) or write to TAFEP for assistance. Should they wish to share their case in confidence, TAFEP will respect their request and not alert their employers. TAFEP is also working with relevant government agencies and partners, including the Police, the Courts, and AWARE to set up a referral process so that TAFEP can have sight of all workplace harassment cases. We will take a whole-of-government approach to support affected employees.
- As pointed out by Mr Desmond Choo, some affected employees may need counselling services, TAFEP will help advise employers on where to obtain such support services and put them in touch with relevant agencies. Companies that put in place programmes such as peer support or counselling will help their staff cope better with the stress and effects of harassment.
Inclusive workplaces and practices
Preventing and addressing discriminatory and unfair employment practices are key to making workplaces more inclusive and progressive. I wish to assure Ms Anthea Ong, Mr Faisal Manap and Mr Melvin Yong that MOM takes a serious view of any form of workplace discrimination or unfair employment practices. Employers should abide by the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, which sets out principles for fair and merit-based employment practices. Employers should not ask job applicants for information unrelated to the employee’s ability for the position, such as pre-existing medical history, including mental health conditions. Even as we constantly reach out to employers to educate them about the Guidelines, we will and have taken actions against employers who are found to have engaged in discriminatory employment practices.
- I would like to assure Mr Melvin Yong that there have been instances where we have asked employers to remove or refrain from enforcing unreasonable contractual terms. Employers have generally responded with their cooperation.
- We want employees to know that there is help available for those with unreasonable clauses in their employment contracts, or are unfairly discriminated against. They can approach their unions, TAFEP or MOM for assistance.
Summary of key updates/announcements of speech in Mandarin
人力部多年来致力于推动灵活工作安排的职场文化，让雇员在工作的同时，也能兼顾家庭。为此，人力部将增加对“工作与生活平衡津贴 (Work-Life Grant)计划”的拨款，从目前的3000万元提高到一亿元。另外，申请“工作与生活平衡津贴”的期限，也将延长多三年，直到2022年6月才截止。
Realising our collective potential together
Mr Chairman, for a nation with no natural resources, every Singaporean is an important asset. With increasing competition for scarce talent, having progressive and inclusive workplaces will enable companies to tap on a wider pool of capabilities. To do so, we need a whole-of-society effort, where workers young or old, employers from all sectors and the community at large play their part.
Our workers must adopt a positive mindset towards new technologies and upskilling in order to stay productive and relevant. This attitude is also one that our young job seekers must embrace throughout their working life. Employers that put workers at the heart of their operations and prioritise a safe and conducive work environment will only stand to gain when their staff perform to their fullest potential. When the community, such as co-workers and the general public support an inclusive culture at work, the seeds of our talents will bloom with greater promise and hope.
Only then, can we realise our collective potential together, as a nation.
- Thank you.