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Opening Remarks at the Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on TG-FWAR

Minister of State for Manpower, Ms Gan Siow Huang, Furama City Centre

  1. Good afternoon everyone. Today’s session brings together people from the union, employers, trade associations, HR professionals, and other groups. We also have Dads for Life, who are interested in how Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) can support caregivers to continue to work. I look forward to this session, as I think it will make the Tripartite Guidelines even richer in terms of relevance, and more ready to serve the larger workforce in Singapore.

  2. I would like to highlight a few points that I thought resonated a lot through our engagement and consultation sessions:
  1. There is no “one-size-fits-all approach to FWAs. Not all FWAs are suitable for all jobs, and FWAs must ultimately strike a balance between business and employee needs and make business sense in order to be sustainable.

  2. There are different types of flexible work, not just work-from-home. FWAs such as part-time shift work and hybrid work have been around for a long time and we ought to do more to get people to be more open-minded to the different types of flexible work such as flexi-time, flexi-load and flexi-place.

  3. We want to set norms and expectations on flexible work.
    1. For example, we are getting more feedback from employers that employees are becoming more demanding regarding flexible work. At the same time, employees may also compare themselves with other colleagues who may be on certain arrangements. These employers need guidance on managing such requests in a way that is reasonable, yet takes care of business needs.
    2. As for employees, we have received feedback that post-Covid, some of the FWAs that were initially provided during the pandemic have been withdrawn. Workers are then left puzzled on whether their bosses or managers have certain preferences or bias, and are unsure of how they can go about making requests for FWAs without fearing that they will be judged, without worrying that they will be singled out and later discriminated during performance appraisal. We need to give some assurance to employees and empower them to make requests for FWAs responsibly.
    3. We are heartened that most employers would like to support FWAs if they can, and see value in using FWAs to attract more workers and to tap on a wider talent pool. We all know Singapore has a tight labour market, and to be a competitive company, one needs to have good people, not just quantity, but also quality. With more people having the need for and expectations of flexible work, it is to the benefit of companies that are progressive which are able to make themselves attractive to their existing employees and jobseekers out there.

  4. Mutual trust is key for FWAs to work. It is one thing to have the Tripartite Guidelines, but if there is no trust and mutual understanding, there will not be much change in terms of the proliferation and extension of FWAs at the end of the day. Employers and managers have to play a part in creating a workplace where there is two-way communication, and where co-workers support one another.
    1. Some people think that FWAs only work for big companies, but we also understand that in some small companies, employers and employees know each other so well that they have been implementing FWAs for a long time through informal ways. This is perfectly okay and we encourage companies to continue doing so.
    2. The Tripartite Guidelines that we are developing are for companies that do not have an established process for employees to even ask for FWAs, or for employees who may feel frightened to ask for FWAs. We hope that through the Tripartite Guidelines, employees will feel that it is okay to ask, and employers to have a process to evaluate based on business needs. If the employer cannot support the request, we encourage both employer and employee to have a discussion about other ways in which the employer can do to support the employee.

  5. Singapore has an ageing population, and more of us will be caregivers at some point. It is our duty to create an environment that is supportive so that those who want to work can continue to work even while they are manging other family duties at home. I hope to see inclusive and supportive workplaces in the years to come, and we need your help and feedback on what else we can do to strengthen FWA provision in Singapore.