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Speech by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower Ms Low Yen Ling at MOM Committee of Supply 2020

Introduction

  1. Mr Chairman, Minister Josephine Teo and MOS Zaqy have spoken much on “Fair Opportunities” for our workforce. MOM is also striving to improve work opportunities and progress for our women and caregivers, and enhance the hiring process of foreign domestic workers (FDWs).

  2. Women in Singapore have made remarkable progress in terms of education, employment, and earnings.
      1. Our female resident employment rate for those aged 25 to 64 has improved significantly over the past decade, rising from 64% in 2009 to 73% in 2019.

      2. More than half of females aged 25 to 64 now have at least tertiary-level education, rising from 37% in 2009 to 55% in 2019.

      3. With improvements in employment rate and education profile, the share of women has risen across most broad occupational groups.

      4. More women are in PMET jobs, rising from 49% to 57% of females over the decade.

      5. Their earnings have also increased, as median income of full-time employed females rose from about $2,800 in 2009 to $4,300 in 2019.


    Support for Mothers to Transition Back to Work

  3. We will build on the progress achieved to make our workplaces fairer and even more progressive for women. Many women juggle multiple roles at work and at home. Juggling our work and family aspirations. As women tend to be primary caregivers for their families, some may stop work to better care for their families.

  4. Professor Lim Sun Sun asked about support for mothers to transition back to work. In this respect, the Government helps in many ways – from matching mothers with options like full-time work with Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) or part-time work; to providing greater access to childcare support; and promoting FWAs.

  5. We recognise that women who have left the workforce for longer periods of time may need additional help to find jobs, additional support to find jobs, including part-time work. The Adapt and Grow (A&G) initiative offers employment facilitation services and reskilling and conversion programmes to help jobseekers enter and transit into new jobs.

  6. One of these programmes is Career Trial, which provides opportunities for jobseekers and also employers to try each other out over a period of time and assess their job fit. During the trial, which can be up to three months, jobseekers receive a training allowance from the Government. Last year in May, Career Trial was expanded to include part-time jobs to cater for those who prefer part-time work. There are currently over 500 part-time vacancies available for Career Trial. We encourage caregivers to step forward if they are keen to try out part-time positions while balancing their family or caregiving responsibilities. Back-to-work women who need career assistance can visit WSG’s Careers Connect and also NTUC-Employment and Employability Institute’s (NTUC-e2i’s) career centres.

  7. In addition, as Minister Teo highlighted last week, during the PMO COS, mothers can now enrol their children in affordable and good quality preschools more easily.

  8. We share Ms Yip Pin Xiu’s view that childcare is a shared responsibility between both parents. The recent increase in shared parental leave supports this, and we hope that the move towards more FWAs will enable fathers as well as mothers, to share caregiving responsibilities.

    Flexible Work Arrangements

  9. Mr Chairman, as our population greys and the world of work evolves, we have made continual progress to improve employees’ access to FWAs – not just for women but for all workers. Men and older workers can also benefit as they would want to adjust their intensity. All can benefit from FWA as what Mr Patrick Tay and Ms Jessica Tan have mentioned. In July last year, the Government more than tripled the WLG budget from $30 million to $100 million to encourage more companies to provide FWAs. So far, the WLG’s take-up rate has been promising. Since its enhancement as of 1 July 2018, over 1,120 companies have come onboard WLG as at end December 2019. 4 in 5 of these companies are SMEs. I think this is a really good sign, and we encourage more companies, especially SMEs or even micro-enterprises to step forward.

    FWAs Benefit Employers
            
     
  10. More importantly, companies that have put in place FWAs have been better positioned to implement flexible arrangements very quickly, especially in a time of crisis, like many members have said earlier. When COVID-19 emerged, companies that have adopted FWAs earlier, already had or could quickly put in place measures like “flexi-time”, “flexi-place”, “flexi-load”, or telecommuting, staggered hours and shared job functions. This allowed them to minimise disruptions to their business as well as reduce the team’s exposure to the virus. I wish to assure Ms Cheng Li Hui, AP Daniel Goh, and Mr Douglas Foo that more companies are now realising the value and expediency that FWAs can bring to their employees and operations. FWA can be win-win for the employers and the employees.

      1. For example, Kone Pte Ltd (a lift and escalator company) has a “Flexiplace” arrangement which lets its employees to telecommute and the company could continue their business operations without affecting productivity. Even prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, its Senior Sales Engineer Jasmine Tan, a mother of two young children, was already enjoying the ease of juggling her work and family needs through telecommuting. This arrangement has also improved her work productivity as well as job satisfaction.

         

      2. Members talked about the benefits of telecommuting. Telecommuting is catching on. In 2018, one in four employees required formal or ad hoc telecommuting, of which seven in 10 had access to it. I want to assure Prof Lim Sun Sun that MOM will continue to monitor such data, as FWAs have proven to be useful for both employers and employees, especially in business continuity planning when threats like COVID-19 strikes.

     
    Response to Citizens’ Panel on Work-Life Harmony Recommendations

  11. Companies like Kone , which had FWAs in place before COVID-19, realised that they were  better placed to respond to the crisis and could safeguard their business functions and continuity. FWAs are not simply HR measures – when implemented well, they  enhance the companies’ agility and ability to meet changes and address business needs, as well as to attract and retain talent.

  12. We hope that during this COVID-19 episode, more companies will adopt FWAs and recognise the advantages that such arrangements bring to their business and also their employees. As DPM Heng Swee Keat pointed out, every effort to ride out this storm makes a difference. When we combine everyone’s efforts, we have a force amplified many times over. We are certain that FWAs have already begun to make a positive impact in such a time as this, and the mindset and attitudes of employers towards FWA adoption will gain greater traction and resonance.

  13. Employers are already recognising that FWAs are beneficial to their business. They tell us that FWAs have the greatest positive impact on staff retention and recruitment. Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar will be pleased to know that more employers are offering FWAs. In 2018, more than 9 in 10 of employees work in companies that provide some form of work flexibility, up from about 8 in 10, in 2013. In 2018, more than 8 in 10 employees who required FWAs had access to the FWA that they needed –an increase from 7 in 10 in 2016.

  14. Together, with enlightened employers and employees, we will emerge stronger from this COVID-2019 episode.

  15. Singaporeans have given a resounding support to improving access and availability of FWAs. MOM is committed to do even more to promote adoption and access to FWAs. As Minister Josephine Teo had highlighted in her recent COS speech, the Citizens’ Panel, as part of the SG Together movement, which was launched by DPM Heng Swee Keat, gave strong support to strengthening work-life harmony (WLH) in Singapore, and recognised the important role that FWAs play in this respect.

  16. The Citizens’ Panel, comprising 55 Singaporeans from all walks of life, recommended a greater push for FWAs. They had exchanged diverse views and weighed the trade-offs before putting together their comprehensive report. Once again, Minister Josephine Teo, SPS Faishal, and I would like to say a big thank you to the participants for coming together over four full weekends to deliver this report on Work-Life Harmony. The Government, NTUC and SNEF greatly appreciate their feedback and are in total agreement to intensify our efforts to spur the adoption of FWAs.

  17. How do we intend to do so? First, we will “Make It Easy” for companies to offer FWAs and WLH initiatives.

      1. Some sectors have unique characteristics which may lead to challenges in adopting FWAs. For instance, employees in hospitality and healthcare sectors are required to work shifts, and may not have access to FWAs or even staggered hours. We acknowledge these hurdles, and will develop sector-specific resources to facilitate the implementation of FWAs;

         

      2. Ms Jessica Tan had asked how businesses may leverage new trends and transform their HR practices to encourage greater participation in the workforce. Indeed, there are companies and businesses that are at the forefront of such progressive practices and those who have moved ahead faster, for instance in implementing FWAs. We encourage them to share their experiences with others. Through the Institute for Human Resource Professionals (IHRP), we will pilot sector-specific employer support groups, called Communities of Practice, for FWAs. The HR professionals and senior managers from companies that have made FWAs work well for them can share their best practices with the fellow professionals in the sector or even across sectors;

         

      3. We will also make it easier for companies to access the myriad of resources on FWAs. We want to simplify things. We will revamp TAFEP’s website to be the one-stop resource for everything to do with FWAs, for instance, consolidating all implementation guides, so it will make it easy for companies to adopt;

                                                                          

      4. To facilitate the implementation of FWAs, we will develop an online free-to-use employment contract builder to help employers include clauses on FWAs into their employees’ contracts. This tool will include other clauses to help employers remain compliant with the law (e.g. OT) and be more progressive.

  18. Second, we will “Make It Known” by raising awareness of not just FWAs but also WLH initiatives.

      1. We will promote greater awareness of progressive practices through tools such as the national Human Capital Diagnostic Tool (HCDT). The HCDT helps companies to understand their current HR processes better, and identify areas of improvement. For instance, this could include the appropriate job sizing that is necessary for WLH. Sometimes companies want to provide work-life harmony but don’t quite know how to do it, so this will help them curate it. HCDT will be offered free to companies which have demonstrated firm commitment to improving WLH.

         

      2. We will also raise awareness on FWAs and the benefits of WLH initiatives. To this end, TAFEP has started to grow a community of Work-Life Ambassadors to spread the word within and beyond the workplace. We are grateful to the labour MPs and Sec-Gen NTUC as they will support union leaders as they actively advocate and promote WLH, and SNEF will encourage employers to appoint champions for WLH.

      3. In addition, we will expand our recognition of employers who are committed to WLH. For example, for employers who have just started on their FWA journey, it can be quite daunting. For those who have not yet fully adopted the Tripartite Standard on FWAs, we want to make it easy and known. We will introduce a basic FWA workshop which teaches employers how to start offering FWAs. In fact, this will help place them on a new Provisional Tripartite Standard on FWAs, and that will recognise their efforts in taking the first step. The first step is always the most important one. Companies that are more progressive can adopt a new Tripartite Standard on Work-Life Harmony, which goes beyond FWAs and touches on additional programmes that improves employees’ WLH.            
                   

  19. Within the report are other suggestions considered by the Panel, such as the right-to-request reduced hours – an aspect brought up by Ms Anthea Ong and Mr Chen Show Mao. Though made with good intention, such legislation may lead to unintended consequences.

     

    1. For example, it could lead to the unintended impact of making it unattractive for employers to consider employing those who are likely to exercise the right, such as jobseekers who are caregivers, parents or seniors. This was told to us by the Citizens’ Panel. Legislation is not a silver bullet.

       

    2. That is why a more practical approach is to provide employers support and the flexibility of various types of FWAs which they can choose from, that best suit theirs as well as their employees’ needs.

       

  20. To sum up, we are already working to implement, over the next 12 months, the recommendations which I had just highlighted to “Make it Easy”, “Make it Known”, and “Make it Accepted”, which was announced last week by Minister Josephine Teo at PMO’s COS. We are confident that this collective move for FWAs by the Citizens’ Panel and tripartite partners will help make FWAs the norm, make positive shifts in workplace culture, like what Ms Jessica Tan has describe and further improve WLH in Singapore.

  21. Mr Chen Show Mao had enquired about paid eldercare leave, and Mr Louis Ng asked about legislating parent-care leave. I wish to assure both Members that the needs of working Singaporeans who are also caregivers are utmost on our minds. In 2018, SNS from MOH led a cross-agency review to better understand caregivers’ needs.

  22. Compared to family care leave, the working caregivers interviewed, they similarly felt that FWAs are a more sustainable and preferred means to meet their caregiving needs. They preferred to have the flexibility and ability to take some time off when the need arises, rather than to have a few more days of leave.

  23. 应对我国人口老化以及工作变化的挑战,人力部多年来致力于推动灵活工作安排的职场文化,让更多雇员在工作的时候,也能够兼顾家庭,取得工作与生活平衡,提升员工的向心力和生产力。

  24. 我们将采取双管齐下的策略,也就是刚才提到的“Make It Easy”“Make It Known”,简单的,就是轻松推行,人人受惠。通过两个重要的板块,就是易于采纳勤于推广,来帮助我们的企业实现可持续、有效率的灵活工作安排计划。

  25. 首先,我们要做到易于采纳 让企业能够更轻易地采纳灵活工作安排。这是因为各个行业的人力资源需求其实不一样,因此我们将针对各别行业,推荐可行的灵活工作安排计划。

  26. 第二,我们要做到勤于推广,让更多的企业和雇主,认识到灵活工作安排对他们的企业是有帮助的。

  27. 例如有些企业已经承诺要推行灵活工作安排,但又不太确定该如何执行,我们将推出的人力资本诊断工具箱,能够帮助我们的企业做出更好的判断和决定,善用科技,推行可持续性的灵活工作安排。

  28. 我们感恩职工总会和新加坡雇主联合会,他们会分别委任工运领袖和雇主代表,担任工作与生活和谐大使,让国人可以意识到灵活工作安排,对本身事业和对企业可持续发展的重要性

  29. 为新冠疫情的影响,本地不少企业已经发现善用科技、实施灵活工作安排,为企业可持续性带来许多的好处。对员工,对企业是双赢的。我们希望通过易于采纳勤于推广,可以达到刚才所说的轻松推行,人人受惠的成效, 鼓励更多企业和雇主推行灵活工作安排,留住人才、共同开拓可持续性的未来。
     

    Workplace Harassment


  30. As MOM continually strives to improve working conditions for Singapore workers, we have made it a point to enhance processes to address workplace harassment. We agree with Ms Yip Ping Xiu that employers play an important role in managing workplace harassment. We want to assure the Member and the House that:
      1. First, TAFEP guides employers to put in place proper grievance-handling procedures through resources like the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment.

         

      2. Second, when TAFEP receives a complaint of an employer’s improper handling of a case, TAFEP engages the employer to educate them and ensure they implement the Advisory’s measures. So far, all employers that TAFEP has engaged with have been cooperative and receptive.

         

      3. Thirdly, if companies fail to provide a safe environment for their employees or refuse to heed TAFEP’s advice, we will take action against them, including curtailing their work passes.

  31. Though the number of companies adhering to the Tripartite Advisory is not tracked, the Advisory has created a pipeline of employers inclined to adopt the Tripartite Standard on Grievance Handling, which covers workplace harassment complaints. As at end January 2020, around 1,400 employers, covering about 560,000 employees, have adopted the Standard. 

    Relationship between Foreign Domestic Workers (FDWs) and Employers

  32. Last but not least, allow me to briefly touch on how MOM is improving the employment of FDWs in Singapore.

  33. MOM had announced a series of measures in October last year to enable better matches between employers and FDWs. We are rolling out these measures progressively over the next two years to allow all parties time to adjust to the changes.

  34. It is in the interest of both parties to have a lasting employment relationship – employers want minimal disruption to their households and FDWs want a stable income to support their families back home.

  35. During the second quarter of this year, MOM will launch an enhanced online EA directory to boost the employers’ FDW search and give them greater clarity in their selection of EAs for their hiring needs. Besides showing the EAs’ FDW retention rates, the directory will also feature several other enhancements.

  36. Firstly, it will allow prospective employers to view customer ratings of an EA’s services. For instance, find out the EA’s ability to match a suitable FDW, and if past clients would recommend the EA.

  37. Secondly, the directory will show the EAs’ policies on FDW replacement and the refund of placement loans. This is important because this will enable prospective employers to more easily compare service offerings from the different EAs and identify one that fits their hiring needs.

  38. Thirdly, the improved directory will enable EAs to showcase their niche services, such as providing FDWs trained in caregiving skills, or FDWs who can be swiftly deployed under the APS, which is the Advance Placement Scheme.

  39. Mr Chairman, with greater transparency of information now, prospective employers can make better informed decisions, as well as differentiate the EAs based on their policies, their performance and track record, and thereby improve their chances of a suitable FDW match. 

  40. We strongly encourage employers to use the online EA directory to assess and search for a suitable EA before engaging one to hire an FDW. These enhancements are a result of close consultations with employers through focus-group discussions and also the EAs as MOM seeks to improve the search experience for employers, while enabling EAs to profile themselves fairly. The Ministry will be providing a briefing to EAs on the new features of this enhanced directory to help them adjust to the changes.

  41. However, we know that getting a good match at the hiring stage is not enough. To build and maintain a healthy and strong working relationship between employers and FDWs, the employer and FDWs have to be understanding to each other. And they have also to be fair in their everyday interactions with each other.

  42. To help first-time FDWs and employers adjust to their new roles, MOM requires them to attend the FDW Settling-in Programme (SIP) and Employer Orientation Programme (EOP) respectively. At the SIP, we encourage FDWs to maintain open communication with their employers and perform their work duties responsibly. At the EOP, we inform employers of their legal obligations, to help them understand their FDWs’ cultural differences, and also to encourage their employers to look out for the needs of their helpers, especially in the initial months of employment.

  43. MOM also works with the Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE) to conduct interviews with first-time FDWs in their first few months of employment. The interview is important as it helps detect any settling-in issues, so that FDWs and employers can work together to resolve them early. In 2020, CDE will be stepping up the interviews to cover more first-time FDWs.

  44. In addition to these initiatives, MOM continually works with different stakeholders to support both FDWs and employers. Such efforts include providing meaningful social infrastructure for FDWs during their rest days so that they can be recharged when they return to work. I am very glad to note that FAST, or the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training, will be launching a new multi-service hub later this year that has a bigger capacity to offer more value-added training and also space to offer recreational activities for FDWs on their rest days.

    Concluding Remarks

  45. Chairman, much has been done to support our Singapore workforce – from FWAs to safeguarding employees from unfair treatment. We have also made efforts to develop lasting work relationships between employers and their FDWs by enhancing the hiring process.

  46. However, there is still more we can do. Despite the challenges we face today, I believe that our continued efforts will enable us to emerge even stronger. Through the joint efforts of Singaporeans – from employers to employees, businesses, the Government and its tripartite partners and supporting organisations – everyone plays a part. As long as we’re determined to transform, collaborate and work together, we can enhance our workplace and shape a better future.