Speech by Minister of State for Manpower Ms Gan Siow Huang at Committee of Supply 2023
Ms Gan Siow Huang, Minister of State, Ministry of Manpower
1. I thank Members who have contributed ideas on securing fairer and more inclusive workplaces. Minister Tan See Leng spoke about journeying with you every step of the way. A fairer and more progressive workplace enables everyone, regardless of background, to contribute according to your strengths and interests, and achieve your fullest potential. I will share more on how we plan to continue journeying with you.
B. Upholding inclusivity and fairness at workplaces
Adoption of flexible work arrangements
2. The pandemic has changed the way we work. Flexible Work Arrangements, or FWAs, have become more prevalent and important. Employers increasingly see the value of FWAs to attract and retain talent, and to tap on a wider pool of manpower. While the focus during the pandemic was on telecommuting, FWAs go beyond telecommuting, and include other work arrangements such as part-time work, staggered work hours, job-sharing, and flexible shift scheduling and so on. In 2021, over 9 in 10 employees worked in firms that provided at least one form of FWA on a sustained basis. This is up from 7 in 10 employees in 2019. This is encouraging. As several MPs such as Mr Desmond Choo, Mr Louis Ng, Ms Rachel Ong, Mr Sharael Taha and Ms Yeo Wan Ling highlighted, we can do more to support caregivers, seniors and persons with disabilities to continue working or to re-enter the workforce. FWAs is a key strategy to do so.
3. We have made good progress, and we will press on with tripartite partners to encourage more FWAs in a win-win manner. Businesses have different operating contexts, and employees also have varied needs. The key is for management and staff to have regular dialogue with each other, to better understand each other’s needs and build mutual trust. Implementing FWAs in a rigid manner before employers are ready, risks creating a more acrimonious workplace culture and affecting workplace productivity, which ultimately hurts employers and employees. While we can understand Mr Louis Chua’s and Mr Louis Ng’s good intentions, legislation is not a panacea. In jurisdictions with FWAs legislation, employers can still reject requests that are not practicable for the business. The UK, one of the first few countries that implemented a right-to-request FWAs legislation, only saw the proportion of UK workers using FWAs increase very marginally, from 26% in 2013 to 30% in 2020.
4. We need to first focus on shaping the right norms at work and building mutual understanding between employers and employees on FWAs. As announced previously, the Tripartite Partners are working closely to formulate and introduce the Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangements by 2024. The Guidelines will require employers to consider requests for FWAs fairly and properly. To Mr Gerald Giam’s question, while employers have the prerogative to accept or reject FWA request, they must have valid reasons for their decision. At the same time, employees should be reasonable in their requests, and use FWAs responsibly. For example, certain forms of FWAs are simply not practical for some jobs – such as expecting full telecommuting for a job role in machine maintenance. Some FWAs may also have significant resource implications, which employers understandably need to take into consideration when assessing the requests. We must also differentiate the impact of FWAs on individual and team productivity. For instance, while some employees may feel more productive telecommuting and want to work from home more frequently, team productivity could fall due to reduced in-person interaction and collaboration. As such, we need to allow employers and employees time to adjust and find the optimal balance at the individual employee and business levels when implementing FWAs.
5. What we want to see is a workplace norm where employees feel comfortable requesting for FWAs, while understanding that while not all requests can be acceded to due to business needs, the requests will be assessed properly and fairly. The Tripartite Partners will deliberate on these issues when crafting the Tripartite Guidelines, and we will consult widely, to ensure the Guidelines are practical and well-balanced in supporting the needs of both businesses as well as the employees.
6. Besides shaping norms, we have been working with the Tripartite Partners to strengthen support for employers in implementing FWAs. Many MPs have called for this over the years, including Ms Yeo Wan Ling, Mr Yip Hon Weng, Mr Gerald Giam, Mr Louis Chua, Mr Louis Ng, Ms Rachel Ong, Mr Sharael Taha and Dr Wan Rizal, and many others. It is in employers’ interest to make FWAs more available, as our surveys found that FWAs had the greatest impact on staff retention amongst other progressive workplace practices.
7. I encourage employers who offer FWAs to adopt the voluntary Tripartite Standard on Flexible Work Arrangements, and be recognised as progressive employers on Workforce Singapore’s MyCareersFuture Portal (MCF) and job fairs, so as to better attract jobseekers. Last year, the number of employees who worked in companies that adopted the Tripartite Standard increased by 18%. In total, more than 29% of all employees now work in companies that have adopted the Tripartite Standard.
8. One example of a progressive employer is Starbucks, which many of us are familiar with. Starbucks Singapore offers a diverse range of FWAs, including part-time, flexi-shifts and shift swapping for their frontline employees. They provide additional support to employees with needs, such as by allowing parents to switch to part-time work to spend more time with their new-born or to care for their dependents with special needs. Employees doing office-based tasks are allowed to telecommute where possible. The flexibility and support accorded to employees, across different roles, has contributed to Starbucks’ low attrition rate for employees, as well as four out of five of frontline managerial positions being filled by in-house talent.
9. I want to thank our Tripartite Partners, the Singapore National Employers Federation, SNEF, and the National Trades Union Congress, NTUC for their strong commitment in promoting FWAs at workplaces. Just last year alone, the Tripartite Partners engaged close to 2,000 employers, HR practitioners and employees to encourage the adoption of the Tripartite Standard on FWAs and implementation of flexible work. These are done through SNEF’s training and engagements, and NTUC’s Better Workplace Campaign. We also continue to see more employers tap on various resources such as the Institute for Human Resource Professionals’ (IHRP) Playbook on Hybrid Workplaces, and free clinics and sector-specific guides offered by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP). We will continue to develop more resources to guide employers on how to comply with the upcoming Guidelines.
10. Mr Sharael Taha would be happy to know that in 2022, over 3 in 10 of employed residents had telecommuted at some point in the month they were surveyed. TAFEP has so far not received any complaints of unfair treatment relating to telecommuting over the past two years. Nevertheless, as we expect more people to take up FWAs, it will be increasingly important to ensure that HR practitioners are equipped to implement it in a fair manner. We will continue to enhance these efforts to enable FWAs at the workplace. If done well, we can create family-friendly work environments for our caregivers, which many think will be more sustainable than legislating parental care leave as Mr Louis Ng suggested.
11. After-hours communication, which Mr Melvin Yong raised, is another example of the importance of HR capabilities in the implementation of policies to ensure work flexibility is adopted appropriately. To-date, more than 500 company representatives have attended SNEF’s workshops and briefings that help HR to implement this policy, which was actually derived from a template developed by the Alliance for Action on Work-Life Harmony. Since the launch of the Tripartite Advisory on Mental Well-being at Workplaces in 2020, MOM and the Workplace Safety and Health Council have been encouraging companies to adopt the recommendations within the Tripartite Advisory that best suit their own company’s needs. As shared earlier, legislation such as the right-to-rest and the right-to-disconnect can create a rigid and litigious workplace culture. Instead, we should adopt an enabling approach by encouraging employers to regularly engage their employees to implement company policies that best suit both business and personal needs.
12. We agree with Mr Desmond Choo, Mr Sharael Taha and Ms Yeo Wan Ling that job redesign is important to enable FWAs at workplaces. Companies requiring further support in job redesign to make their jobs more productive and attractive for workers, can tap on Government schemes, such as the Support for Job Redesign under the Productivity Solutions Grant.
13. Women in particular benefit from FWAs, as they often carry heavier caregiving responsibilities at home. There are also women who may take a break from their careers and need more support to return to work. Therefore, in June last year, Workforce Singapore, or WSG, launched an initiative called herCareer. HerCareer includes employment facilitation programmes and services that support women jobseekers, including walk-in interviews to meet with hiring employers on the spot. Over the last three years, WSG and NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), have placed more than 83,000 women jobseekers across its programmes and services.
14. Community partners also play key roles in supporting women at work. For example, the Singapore Business Federation launched the Singapore Women Entrepreneurs Network in 2021, to nurture and support women talent. In the same year, the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations introduced a Mentoring Programme for aspiring women directors, to help them achieve their professional development goals. NTUC U Women and Family has further expanded its Women Supporting Women Mentorship Programme across the island, where women in the community are mentored by women leaders and union leaders. NTUC U Women and Family, NTUC LearningHub and e2i also started a career returner programme, called “Women Returning to Work Initiative”, which includes training and job matching opportunities. Concurrently, WSG collaborates with other community partners to support women returning to work and these include Yayasan Mendaki, and Daughters of Tomorrow.
15. These collective efforts have contributed to the growth in employment rate for women aged 25 to 64, from 73% in 2020 to 76% in 2022 in spite of the pandemic. We will continue to work with partners to provide women with the support they need and we encourage employers to continue doing their part.
C. Strengthening support for different worker segments
16. We recognise that some groups may need more support to achieve their full potential in the workforce, such as persons with disabilities and ex-offenders. We are committed to providing them with the support they need, working hand-in-hand with our partners.
Enhancements to Enabling Employment Credit
17. We are encouraged that the employment rate1 of resident persons with disabilities has continued to improve, reaching 31.4% in 2021 to 2022.
18. But we can do better as a society. Ms Rachel Ong asked about raising the workforce participation rate of persons with disabilities, and Mr Sharael Taha asked about creating more employment opportunities for them. In the recently released Enabling Masterplan 2030, MSF and MOM set an employment rate target of 40% by 2030 for persons with disabilities. Our whole of society needs to come together to achieve this aspiration. Under the Enabling Masterplan 2030, a new Taskforce comprising members from the public, people and private sectors has been set up to develop new ways of supporting the employment of persons with disabilities.
19. MOM will be enhancing the Enabling Employment Credit, or EEC for short. Today, the EEC provides employers of persons with disabilities earning below $4,000 a month with permanent wage offsets of up to 20%. Employers who hire persons with disabilities who have not been employed for at least six months receive an additional time-limited wage offset of up to 10% for six months. In 2022, the EEC benefitted more than 10,000 persons with disabilities, including close to 2,000 who had not been in work for at least six months.
20. I am pleased to announce that the government will enhance the additional wage offset by raising the support level from 10% to 20%, and increasing the support duration from six to nine months. Taken together with the permanent wage offset, employers can receive up to 40% wage offsets for the first nine months of employment when hiring a person with disability who has not been working for at least six months, and 20% wage offsets thereafter. This means up to $8,400 in wage offsets for the first full year of employment. This enhancement is on top of separate Government grants that provide employers with support to improve the workplace, redesign the job or provide training as needed.
21. Ms Vivian Ser, a wife and mother, has been working with Novotel as a cook with support from the EEC and SG Enable. Novotel’s HR team worked together with Ms Ser’s job and mobility coaches during her onboarding process. As Ms Ser is visually impaired, she takes on parts of the kitchen process which do not involve heating, such as vacuum sealing and plating. Novotel also put in place simple workplace accommodations, such as a talking scale, and tactile stickers to help her navigate her environment safely. Family support is also key. Ms Ser’s husband and son are her biggest cheerleaders, and also provide practical support such as in her transport arrangements. With support from her family, employer, colleagues, and coaches, Ms Ser recently reached her one-year anniversary with Novotel.
22. As seen from Ms Ser’s story, holistic support makes a difference to helping persons with disabilities enter and stay in employment. Mr Gerald Giam asked what can be done address discrimination associated with disabilities. A first step that we all can take is to avoid stereotyping, and to recognise that everyone has skills and experience which they can bring to our teams at work. Looking ahead, the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness has recommended that the proposed Workplace Fairness Legislation protect persons with disabilities against workplace discrimination.
23. Ms Rachel Ong also asked about retirement adequacy for persons with disabilities and their caregivers. Eligible lower-income workers, including persons with disabilities and their caregivers, receive the Workfare Income Supplement, which will boost their income and retirement savings through cash payments and CPF contributions. We have further enhanced Workfare from January 2023 to allow all eligible persons with disabilities to qualify for the highest payout tier, regardless of age. This will provide up to $4,200 in annual payments.
24. The Government also provides additional support to boost retirement adequacy, which would support persons with disabilities and their caregivers if they are unable to work and have little retirement savings. This includes the Silver Support scheme, which provides quarterly cash payouts of up to $900 to seniors who had low or no incomes during their working years and have little family support. The Silver Support scheme was enhanced in 2021 to boost payouts by 20%. To encourage top-ups, we also introduced the Matched Retirement Savings Scheme, or MRSS, in 2021 for those who have not met the prevailing BRS. Under the MRSS, the Government will match top-ups of up to $600 per year to eligible seniors’ CPF accounts. These measures will also help boost the retirement adequacy of homemakers whom Mr Saktiandi Supaat spoke about.
25. Ms Rachel Ong asked about support for caregivers of persons with disabilities who wish to return to the workforce. Caregivers can tap on Workforce Singapore’s suite of employment facilitation programmes and services. For example, caregivers who need job search assistance can visit WSG’s Careers Connect and NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute’s career centres for career advisory and guidance. Those who need a skills top-up can apply for the Career Conversion Programmes, which provide training and salary support to employers who hire and reskill mid-career jobseekers for new occupations, with higher support for caregivers who have not been in work for at least six months.
Hiring incentive for ex-offenders
26. Another group that we pay close attention to is ex-offenders. Employment is critical for their successful reintegration into society.
27. Ex-offenders sometimes face challenges such as stigmatisation and limited career opportunities upon their release. The problems can be compounded by low educational qualifications, lack of industry-relevant skills and recent work experience. The challenges are more acute in the initial years after release, as ex-offenders face problems transiting from prison to the work environment.
28. A hiring incentive for ex-offenders will help encourage a wider range of employers to provide job opportunities to ex-offenders. We will introduce a new hiring incentive, the Uplifting Employment Credit, UEC for short, to continue supporting the hiring of ex-offenders. Under the new UEC, employers who hire ex-offenders through Yellow Ribbon Singapore and Singapore Prison Service’s employment programmes will automatically qualify for a wage offset of 20% for the first nine months, amounting to up to $5,400 for each ex-offender employee. Employers who hire eligible ex-offenders directly can apply through IRAS to receive the UEC. Employers will receive the UEC for new ex-offenders hired between April 2023 and December 2025. We will review the scheme thereafter to assess its effectiveness in improving ex-offenders’ employment outcomes, such as job retention and wages. We hope that this will go some way in supporting the employment of ex-offenders.
29. Mr Chairman, let me now say a few words in Mandarin.
31. 我们将加强残障人士雇佣补贴计划。雇主每聘请一名至少半年无业的残障人士，可获得高达40%的月薪补贴，长达九个月。之后，雇主可继续享有高达20%的月薪补贴。在第一年内，雇主可获得总共高达8400元的补贴。 之后，雇主可继续享有高达20%的月薪补贴。
32. 我们将加强残障人士雇佣补贴计划。雇主每聘请一名超过半年无业的残障人士，将获得高达40%的月薪补贴，长达九个月。 在第一年内，雇主可获得总共高达8400元的补贴。
D. Concluding Remarks
35. Everyone must play their part to secure fairer and more inclusive workplaces. The Government will continue to provide the support that you need, and journey with you every step of the way.