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Speech by Minister of State for Manpower Ms Gan Siow Huang at Committee of Supply 2024

Ms Gan Siow Huang, Minister of State for Manpower, Parliament House

  1. Preamble

    1. I thank Members who have given suggestions on upholding inclusivity and fairness in our workplaces.

    2.    In our refreshed social compact, we want to ensure that all members of our society can participate in the workforce. One key group are our senior workers. Given our ageing population and slowing workforce growth, it is important that we help every worker contribute as much as they are able to, for as long as they wish.

  2. Uphold inclusivity and fairness at workplaces

    Announce the next increment in retirement/re-employment age to 64/69 in 2026

    3. Let me share how we will continue to support our senior workers. Many MPs, including SMS Heng Chee How, Mr Desmond Choo, Mr Yip Hon Weng, Ms Rachel Ong, Ms Rahayu Mahzam, and Mr Keith Chua, have spoken on this subject.

    4.    The Retirement and Re-employment Act protects seniors from age-related dismissal before reaching the statutory retirement age. Employers must also offer re-employment to eligible senior workers up until the statutory re-employment age.

    5. In 2022, we raised the retirement and re-employment ages to 63 and 68 respectively. As announced by Minister Tan See Leng, the tripartite partners have agreed to raise the retirement and re-employment ages further to 64 and 69 respectively, in 2026. This will bring us another step closer to our eventual goal of setting retirement and re-employment ages at 65 and 70 respectively by 2030.

    6.    I would like to thank the Singapore National Employers Federation and the National Trades Union Congress for their strong support to make this possible. Credit goes to employers and union leaders on the ground as well. Over 9 in 10 senior workers who were eligible and wished to continue working were offered re-employment in 2023. To ensure that the next increase is implemented just as smoothly, I encourage employers to start planning early. Some will need to adjust their manpower and upskilling plans to retain their senior workers. This is why we are taking a stepped approach and announcing the increase early. Come 2026, employers who have prepared well will be better placed to tap on their senior workforce to meet their business needs.

    7. Our employment rate for seniors aged 65 to 69 is now ranked third compared to OECD countries, increasing by almost 5 percentage points, from 43.8% in 2018 to 48.3% in 2023.

    8. Among our younger seniors aged 55 to 64, the employment rate also rose, from 66.8% to 70.0% over the same period. But we can do more to support our seniors.

    9. As Ms Rachel Ong has highlighted, senior workers have much expertise to contribute, but some may prefer to reduce their work intensity as they age. Workplaces with flexible work arrangement provisions will be better able to tap on our growing pool of senior workers. Mr Yip Hon Weng asked about plans to harness the potential of our senior workers. The Government will provide support to employers who want to improve their HR capabilities to manage an ageing workforce.

    10. Employers can tap on the Part-Time Re-employment Grant, or PTRG, which we extended last year to support more flexible work options for senior workers. Employers can enjoy up to $125,000 in grant support under the scheme. As of December 2023, with the support of the PTRG, more than 6,300 employers committed to provide part-time re-employment under their HR policy. This is expected to benefit around 50,000 senior workers.

    11. The PTRG also supports employers in implementing structured career planning, or SCP. SCP is a process where employers systematically engage their employees and plan out their training and career development goals to align with business needs. This is particularly useful for employees who are approaching retirement. Through the PTRG, employers can access free training to learn how to conduct SCP with their employees.

    12. Employers can also receive support through the Senior Employment Credit. The SEC provides wage offsets to employers who hire Singaporean workers aged 60 and above. The support given is significant. In 2023, we disbursed $315 million dollars, benefitting 90,000 employers that hire 400,000 senior workers.

    13.   However, supporting seniors to remain in the workforce is not just a matter of creating job opportunities. Employees must also do their part. Most senior workers today are re-employed in the same job role. But with longer lifespans and careers, and a faster pace of economic change, we should not expect to perform the same job role year after year. Senior workers must also keep pace with changes in the labour market and be open to learning new skills or trying out new roles.

    Update on Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangement Requests (TG-FWAR)

    14.   I highlighted earlier how flexible work arrangements, or FWAs, are useful in helping seniors stay in the workforce longer. But the benefits go beyond senior workers.

    15. Ms Rachel Ong, Mr Sharael Taha, and Ms Yeo Wan Ling have pointed out that more workers will be caregivers in the future given our ageing population. The caregivers will need to manage work responsibilities while taking care of elderly family members at home. FWAs will be useful in supporting such caregivers. Of course, other workers can also benefit from FWAs. With more flexibility, they can better manage their time so that they can attend courses and pick up new skills. Some may be senior workers themselves and prefer a more flexible workload.

    16.  In 2007, a Tripartite Workgroup recommended greater provision of FWAs to bring more women back to work. Since then, the Tripartite Partners have launched various initiatives to increase FWA adoption, including providing grants and incentives. The Tripartite Standard on FWAs was introduced in 2017; I’m heartened that since then, over 12,000 employers have adopted the Tripartite Standard. Beyond our Tripartite Partners, I would also like to acknowledge the many individuals who participated in our Citizens’ Panel and Alliance for Action on Work-Life Harmony in 2019 and 2021 respectively. Diverse stakeholders, including employers, employees and HR practitioners, came up with ideas and even co-developed resources to improve work-life harmony, including FWAs.

    17.   The experience has taught us three lessons so far:

    1. First, there is no one-size-fits-all approach in implementing FWAs. There are different types of FWAs – flexi-place, flexi-time, and flexi-load. Each company needs to find an equilibrium that helps them stay productive while meeting their employees’ needs.
    2. Second, trust between employers and employees is critical for FWAs to work well. Employees should be reasonable in their requests, deliver work outcomes even as they work more flexibly, and not see FWAs as an entitlement. Employers, on the other hand, should have a process to evaluate FWAs objectively and communicate their decisions to their employees.
    3. Third, FWAs are sustainable only if they make business sense. Ms Yeo Wan Ling had earlier asked if the Workgroup could consider asking companies to prove they have started on job redesign if they wish to reject FWA requests. Actually, from our public consultations, many employers recognise that FWA provision can help their companies better attract and retain talent. It would be in their interest to support their employees’ requests for FWAs. However, employers also have to consider the impact on the team, business and clients besides the needs of the individual employees. FWAs will not be sustainable if they lead to higher business costs and lower productivity at the company level.

    18.   Based on these principles, we convened a Tripartite Workgroup in September last year with two objectives in mind.

    19.   Firstly, the Workgroup will develop a set of Tripartite Guidelines on FWA Requests. To do so, we consulted with employees, employers, and HR practitioners, and studied other countries’ approaches to encouraging FWA adoption.

    20.   We found that in countries with legislation on FWAs, such as the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, such legislation typically mandates requirement around the process of requesting FWAs, but do not mandate that businesses provide the FWAs requested. Employers retain their prerogative to decide whether to grant the request, given their business context and the employee’s needs. These findings are consistent with what we heard during our consultations, where both employers and employees agreed it was important to have a clear process for employees to request for FWAs, and for employers to assess if these arrangements could work for their business.

    21.   As Mr Sharael Taha had raised earlier, employers will need to manage FWA requests while ensuring their workplaces remain harmonious and productive. In designing such a process, Tripartite Partners too felt that it was important to avoid creating a litigious workplace culture that could cause more disputes.

    22.   Instead of taking a legislative approach, we will use Tripartite Guidelines to set out how employees should request FWAs, as well as how employers should consider these requests and communicate the outcome properly. These Guidelines will be mandatory. Most importantly, we must maintain workplace trust and harmony during the process. The Workgroup has been consulting with stakeholders on the scope of the Guidelines and will finalise our recommendations soon.

    23.   Shaping stronger norms around flexible workplaces will complement our existing leave policies to better support working caregivers. A/Prof Jamus Lim, Mr Desmond Choo, and Ms Yeo Wan Ling have called for additional caregiver leave. However, FWAs are a more sustainable way to support caregivers than providing additional leave of one or two more days, which could negatively affect the employment of the very group we are trying to help.

    24.   Second, the Workgroup is looking at how to support employers to implement FWAs across different industries and job roles productively, recognising that some job roles may be suitable for some types of FWAs but not others. For instance, it may not make sense for restaurants to have frontline staff telecommute. However, firms can still allow for individual flexibility while sustaining their operations, such as by implementing flexible shift systems. Ms Yeo Wan Ling asked about providing support to ensure win-win outcomes for FWAs, while Mr Yip Hon Weng asked about catering FWAs for diverse roles and responsibilities. The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices and Institute for Human Resource Professionals will curate training and resources to help supervisors and HR practitioners implement FWAs, redesign jobs for FWAs, and manage workers on flexible work, so they can achieve their full productive potential at work.

    25.   Employers can also leverage existing grants such as the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) to offset the financial costs of adopting FWAs. Ms Yeo Wan Ling would be happy to know that under the PSG, firms can receive support to improve their productivity by engaging a consultant to redesign jobs or upgrade their HR systems. Firms can also work with NTUC to form a Company Training Committee, or CTC, and access funding support through the CTC Grant to redesign jobs for better business and worker outcomes.

    26.   Service buyers can also do their part, by implementing outcome-based contracting and specifying service - rather than headcount-level requirements as per the Tripartite Advisory on Best Sourcing Practices. This gives service providers more flexibility in deployment, making it easier to provide their employees with FWAs.

    Update on moves to support employment of caregivers

    27.   Next, I will share more on our other efforts to support the employment of caregivers returning to the workforce, especially women. We have made good progress in this area: our employment rate for women aged 25 to 64 has increased from 72.3% in 2018 to 76.6% in 2023. Nevertheless, we recognise that women continue to take on more of the caregiving load at home. As Mr Desmond Choo highlighted, this indirectly widens the gender pay gap. One of the key factors driving Singapore’s gender pay gap is occupational segregation. In other words, there tends to be fewer women in high-paying occupations. This could be because women are more likely to take time off work to focus on caregiving and may not be able to fully realise their career potential. FWAs can help address this partially, by enabling both men and women to contribute more equally to caregiving duties. Employers should also adopt merit-based appraisal systems that evaluate each employee, including working parents, fairly and objectively. 

    28.   Ms Rachel Ong asked about what employment support will be available for caregivers to seniors and persons with disabilities. Some caregivers may wish to return to work after having taken a break from their career. Such caregivers usually need more support as the job landscape may have changed while they were away. WSG and NTUC’s e2i provide career matching services and reskilling support to help such individuals return to work.

    29.   Ms He Ting Ru’s call for employers to be mandated to report their gender pay gap regularly may not be the best way to address this issue. It may instead hurt women’s employability if employers choose to hire fewer women to boost their gender pay gap numbers. Countries such as Canada, which require such a reporting have an adjusted pay gap of about 8%, higher than Singapore’s 6%. We should and will continue to focus on helping more women take on good jobs and fulfil their career potential.

    30.   Ms Rachel Ong asked about what employment support will be available for caregivers to seniors and persons with disabilities, many of whom may also be single, and the sole caregiver and breadwinner.  Some of these caregivers may wish to return to work after having taken a break from their career. Such caregivers usually need more support as the job landscape may have changed while they were away. WSG and NTUC’s e2i provide career matching services and reskilling support to help such individuals return to work.

    31.   WSG launched the herCareer initiative in June 2022 to bring together employment facilitation programmes supporting female jobseekers. Since then, WSG has engaged nearly 16,000 women at its career events. WSG also runs workshops in collaboration with partners to support women in returning to work.

    32.   We encourage women who are looking to return to work to tap on these resources. One example is Ms Nurhani Binte Zailani Shatifan, a 51-year-old mother of 5, who used to work in the travel industry but became a caregiver to her parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many caregivers who had left the workforce for some time, she faced challenges when seeking to return to work in 2022.

    33.   However, Nurhani did not give up. She signed up for WSG career coaching, which helped her with interview preparations, giving her a confidence boost before each interview. In a post-Covid world, virtual meetings have become much more common. Nurhani enrolled in Yayasan Mendaki’s Women@Work programme, where she learnt how to facilitate Zoom meetings. She also had the support of a mentor through NTUC’s Women Supporting Women programme, who encouraged her and other women on the same journey. Armed with these resources and a positive attitude, she secured a position with INSEAD Business School as an Events Coordinator. It is a job she enjoys and continues to learn and grow in.

    34.   Thanks to these efforts, more women are participating in the workforce. Since 2018, the number of women successfully placed in jobs through WSG’s programmes has nearly doubled – increasing from over 13,000 to more than 26,000 women placed annually.

    35.   Mr Gerald Giam has called for greater workplace support for women undergoing menopause. Menopause is a natural phase in life that all women experience as we get older. There can be some discomfort most women continue to live normally and contribute actively at work. Women who experience severe menopausal symptoms can seek subsidised medical treatment at Public Healthcare Institutions, including physiotherapy, and take sick leave to rest properly, just like any other medical need. It’s useful to increase awareness among women on how we can take charge of our health as we get older and be better prepared for menopause. To Mr Gerald Giam, while it sounds good to advocate for workplace support for women undergoing menopause, we need to be careful not to stereotype women of a certain age group as it could hurt their employability unintentionally.

    Update on moves to support employment of persons with disabilities

    36.   Building inclusive workplaces allows everyone to thrive at work regardless of background. This includes creating opportunities for persons with disabilities to take on jobs aligned with their skillsets and aspirations. The Enabling Masterplan 2030 sets out a clear roadmap to support the employment of persons with disabilities.

    37.   Last year, we enhanced the Enabling Employment Credit, or EEC, which provides wage offsets to employers hiring persons with disabilities. The enhancement supports those who have not been in work for at least six months, and benefitted more than 10,000 persons with disabilities last year. SG Enable also launched the first Enabling Business Hub in December 2023, bringing employment opportunities and support closer to where persons with disabilities live.

    38.   Through the collective efforts of the Government, employers and the wider community, the employment rate for persons with disabilities has increased steadily to 33% in 2022-2023. This moves us closer to the target of 40% by 2030 under the Enabling Masterplan 2030.

    39.   As Ms Rachel Ong and Ms He Ting Ru highlighted, it is also important to enable persons with disabilities to undertake meaningful jobs that make good use of their skills. One way is by providing them with reasonable accommodation at the workplace. MOM will work with NTUC and SNEF to develop a Tripartite Advisory to guide employers on modifying jobs and workplaces to support persons with disabilities. We encourage employers to embark on such efforts, including tapping on existing grants such as SG Enable’s Open Door Programme Job Redesign Grant to do so. More details on the Tripartite Advisory will be released when ready.  

    Balancing MDW welfare with ensuring fair treatment of employers

    40.   Migrant domestic workers (or MDWs) remain an important avenue of support for many of our households. While the vast majority of MDWs and employers enjoy harmonious employment relationships, there may be occasional allegations of wrongdoing made against the MDW or the employer.

    41.   Ms Sylvia Lim asked how allegations of ill-treatment are investigated.

    42.   MOM will look into all cases that are brought to our attention. All allegations are investigated thoroughly, impartially and fairly. If there is evidence of abuse, we will refer the case to the Police for investigation. If there are allegations of breaches under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, such as denial of rest day or late payment of salary, MOM will speak to both the MDW and employer, without taking sides. We will also review other objective evidence if available, such as CCTV recordings or accounts from other witnesses, sometimes neighbours, as part of our investigation. If the allegation is substantiated, the necessary enforcement action will be taken.

    43.   On Ms Sylvia Lim’s question on whether advisories are taken into account when the Ministry determines employer’s suitability to employ other MDWs in the future, an advisory serves to remind employers of their rights and responsibilities, it will not affect their eligibility to hire MDWs in the future.

    44.   While these processes may cause some inconvenience to the parties involved, they are necessary to safeguard the well-being of MDWs, especially those who are working in Singapore for the first time. It also provides an opportunity to help employers and their MDWs to resolve issues and improve their working relationship.

  3. Concluding Remarks

45.   The Government is committed to enabling more progressive and inclusive workplaces, where everyone can contribute meaningfully according to their unique strengths and interests. We will work hand-in-hand with tripartite partners, employers and workers to secure a brighter future for all.