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Speech by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower, Ms Low Yen Ling at Supplementary Budget Debate 2020

Introduction

 

1.            Mr Speaker Sir, Minister Teo has spoken about protecting livelihoods and helping businesses stay viable. Indeed, we will do all we can to preserve jobs and businesses, and support our workforce. Let me now share more about how we are helping companies adopt more flexible work arrangements (FWAs) that let them continue operations amid the uncertainty or resume their businesses after this circuit breaker period. 

 

Helping Businesses Adjust the Way They Work

 

Importance of Telecommuting

 2.            Last Friday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced stringent measures to curb the spread of Covid-19. From today, all workplaces, with the exception of those in essential services or key economic sectors, are closed. This is to minimise physical interactions and break the circuit of virus transmission. Despite the closure, firms that can continue operations with their workers on telecommuting arrangements, should continue to do so.

 

3.            We understand that companies that had implemented FWAs and telecommuting prior to the crisis/ enhanced measures for their staff were better able to operationalise their business continuity plans (BCP) quickly.

 

  1. Singtel is an example. Half of the telco’s 12,000 employees have already been working from home prior to today. The majority of them are used to working offsite and have the infrastructure to do so. Those who need to be at their workplaces were on staggered work times and lunch periods. Some employees start work as early as 7am or as late as 10am, because it suited them. The company’s operations continue to run as seamlessly as possible, and customers are well-supported.
  2. Another example is legal services firm Allen & Gledhill. Their lawyers and staff work from home with the support of a robust and secure IT infrastructure that allows them to meet and collaborate remotely. Ms Jessica Tan in her many speeches advocated it was possible to meet and collaborate with colleagues from home. Chairman and Senior Partner, Christina Ong, said, and I quote: “Our focus on embracing technology has meant that when we had to, we could. For certain types of work, some of our lawyers now even say that they accomplish even more from home. Furthermore, working from home has allowed parents to deal with school issues and gives many of us leeway in handling other disruptions.”


Work-Life Grant Support

 

4.            Today, companies can already benefit from MOM’s Work-Life Grant (WLG) and receive $2,000 for every worker who adopts an FWA. As we move into a period of stricter social distancing, we will make it easier for employers to get support in implementing telecommuting and staggered hours. MOM will enhance the WLG parameters by reducing the requirement for firms to have their workers telecommute and be on staggered hours – from a minimum period of six months to just one month. The enhanced WLG parameters will apply after the mandatory circuit breaker period comes to an end, and the grant will be open for application on 20 April.

 

5.            We strongly encourage more companies to apply for the WLG which also provides funding for the purchase of laptops, software and related equipment for telecommuting. In the immediate term, adopting FWAs will help companies overcome the present challenges posed by COVID-19. In the long run, FWAs will help companies ride the wave of changing workplace norms, become a more inclusive, caring, and attractive employer, and thereby attracting better talent. FWAs have helped companies like Cycle and Carriage become a choice employer, as their staff appreciate the extra time they have with their family; the ability to attend to personal matters; and greater flexibility in childcare arrangements.

 

6.            Mr Speaker Sir, please allow me to say a few words in Chinese.

 

7.            议长先生,我们的企业目前已经从人力部的工作与生活平衡津贴计划中受惠。每名进行灵活工作安排的雇员,能够让雇主获得高达两千元的津贴。

 

8.            受到新冠病毒疫情的影响,可预见的是,接下来,就算是过了目前的断路器时期,我们也必须严格遵守安全社交距离,在家办公或错开办公时间。因此,为了协助雇主尽早为员工提供灵活工作安排,更快落实居家办公,人力部将进一步改进工作与生活平衡津贴的申请条件,让雇主更容易获得援助,让更多企业受惠。

 

9.            目前,企业必须证明已经实施灵活工作安排至少六个月,才符合申请津贴的资格。现在,申请条件从六个月缩短成为一个月。放宽后的津贴申请条件,在断路器时期过后依然有效,并将在420日开放供雇主申请。

 

10.         我们大力鼓励更多的企业,申请工作与生活平衡津贴,补贴公司为落实灵活工作安排,在手提电脑、通讯器材及软件方面的开销。短期内,灵活工作安排将能协助企业应对新冠病毒疫情所带来的挑战。

 

 11.         长远来说,成功落实灵活工作安排,不但能协助企业顺应不断改变的工作性质和运作模式,其实还能打造更具包容性的职场,借此可以吸引和保留更多的人才, 一举多得。


Preparing for the Future

 

12.         Mr Speaker Sir, companies that are positioning themselves for the upturn should plan ahead to ensure that they equip their workers with relevant skillsets after the temporary closure of workplaces comes to an end:

 

  1. Firms can tap on the enhanced support for redeployment programmes under the Adapt and Grow initiative to reskill their existing workers.
  2. MOM has extended the funding period and introduced new redeployment programmes for the tourism, aviation, retail and food services sector. More than 100 firms have already applied, with more than 2,600 workers expected to benefit from this move.
  3. For instance, SITA World Travel (SITA) have equipped their staff through various courses with skills like data analytics and event management. Two employees are currently on the new Digital Marketing Place-and-Train Programme and they will be redeployed to support SITA’s online platform with their newly-acquired skills.
  4. Another example is Orchard Hotel. This hotel is also tapping on MOM’s enhanced measures to retrain close to 50 of their employees through the Job Redesign Place-and-Train programme for the Hotel Industry. Their 50 staff will acquire deeper capabilities in hotel operations, with the aim of taking on an expanded job scope.
  5. We wish to commend SITA and Orchard Hotel. Despite the cost pressures, both companies decided to take a longer-term perspective by holding onto their workers and helping the workers acquire new skills. Employers who look after their staff are well-placed to gain from their workers’ loyalty in the long-run, especially when the up-turn comes.


Concluding Remarks

 

13.         Mr Speaker Sir, there will be no let-up in our push to preserve jobs and support our workforce. We are in this together. We call upon employers to help, support and care for their employees in these critical times. We also call upon our employees, who can also do their part by understanding their employer’s situation. None of us is alone in this COVID-19 fight. MOM will continue to do our best to support employers and employees throughout this challenging period. Despite the unprecedented situation we face, we are confident we can ride out the storm together. In just seven weeks, we saw DPM Heng Swee Keat delivering three Budgets – the Unity Budget, the Resilience Budget, and the Solidarity Budget. Let’s remain united, show our resilience and stand in solidarity with one another. We Singaporeans are a tough lot. We will not give up, and we will prevail in this COVID-19 fight.