Friday, 22 February 2013

Call for laws on flexi-work for mums

Proposal is part of PAP Women's Wing's suggestions to MOM
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 21 Feb 2013

THE People's Action Party Women's Wing is calling for new laws to compel employers to give mothers flexible work arrangements.

The proposal, part of a position paper submitted to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday, is one several measures it suggests to get more women back into the workforce.

The resident labour force participation rate for women is 57.7 per cent, in contrast to that for men, which is 76 per cent.

The proposed flexi-work legislation would include a provision allowing workers - both male and female, with children below the age of 12 - to request a change in the number of hours, and when and where they work. Similar laws already exist in countries such as Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

Workers would also be allowed to take no-pay leave for up to one year to take care of their children, and guaranteed positions in their companies when they return.

The Women's Wing hopes that these laws could be introduced within the next two to three years but suggested that the Government could start by first setting clear guidelines on flexi-work for employers.

West Coast GRC MP Foo Mee Har and Marine Parade GRC MP Fatimah Lateef led a team of Women's Wing members in drafting the paper over six months, with input from party activists and businesses.

Apart from flexi-work laws, they suggested bumping up the newly announced week-long paternity leave to two months which could be used by either parent.

The paper also suggests incentives for pro-family employers.

Companies which have fair employment practices and fulfil certain criteria in hiring women, including back-to-work mothers, older workers, persons with special needs and minorities, could be given help in hiring foreign workers if needed.

For example, their applications for work passes could be processed faster.

All companies could also receive an employment credit for hiring women returning to the workforce, for up to one year.

The paper also suggests setting up an agency to serve as a one-stop centre for pro-family and flexi-work practices and establishing guidelines for offices and commercial hubs of a certain size to have space dedicated to childcare centres.

Ms Foo said it was necessary for more government intervention to encourage pro-family practices. She said: "The experiences of other countries and our own suggest that fundamental changes will not occur naturally."

But business associations yesterday expressed reservations about having new laws.

Singapore Business Federation chief operating officer Victor Tay said that while an incentive scheme would encourage companies, legislation might hurt.

He pointed out that some businesses such as retail, food and beverage and hotels will require employees to be on-site.

Similarly, the Singapore National Employers Federation said yesterday that such laws might create "unnecessary friction and stress at the workplace". "Not every job can be done on flexi-hours and few companies can guarantee a job 12 months later," it added.

Employers say timing crucial in legislating flexi-work arrangements
By Sharon See, Channel NewsAsia, 21 Feb 2013

Employers caution that timing is crucial when it comes to introducing laws to enable flexible work arrangements.

On Wednesday, the PAP Women's Wing suggested introducing such laws to promote a pro-family work culture in Singapore.

But the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) said the issue should be explored further, as introducing such laws during a tight labour market versus a slack one could have different implications on the workforce.

According to surveys, one in three employers in Singapore currently has some form of flexible work arrangements.

And the PAP Women's Wing is pushing for more to adopt this practice in a bid to attract more women to work.

Some working mothers told MediaCorp they would like to have flexible work arrangements but feel their employers may not welcome such practices.

So in their opinion, having a law that allows employees to opt for flexi-work would be helpful.

Ms Viji Jegain, an office administrator and a working mother, said: "Once you're there, you know that it doesn't give you the flexibility, it's a bit difficult to ask thereafter, so I guess if the rule is implemented, then everyone has an option."

While most employees told MediaCorp they agreed that flexi-work was a good idea, they were divided on whether it should be legislated.

Ms Khew Shu Ping, a PR practitioner, said: "I think having guidelines, maybe some companies may not implement. I know that there are a lot of companies that are starting to implement it and it's really very good, but there are also companies which may not seek such guidelines.

"So for those employees working with those companies, they may not get to benefit even though the guidelines exist. So making it into a law, it actually helps, I feel, and it also gives people the sense that the government is really trying to help everyone to reach that worklife balance as well."

Ms Jane Niven, an in-house lawyer and a working mother, said: "You've got to provide incentives to the companies to be flexible in a work environment but not legislate. I think it's often too rigid if you legislate and there is resistance within companies to legislation."

Mr Felix Wang, a general manager, said: "There should be basically some sort of legislation but more in terms of incentives to be given to the work place as well as the workforce and that will alleviate any feelings of unfairness especially for those who don't have children themselves.

"If you have it as a punitive measure, it basically would result in unnecessary ill feelings for those who don't actually have children themselves because as in any workforce, there're always those with children and those without."

The SNEF noted that this has actually been the experience in countries that legislated flexi-work.

In addition, it adds that not all jobs can have flexi-hours.

For that reasons, it said it has reservations about the proposal.

Mr Koh Juan Kiat, Executive Director at SNEF, said: "The experience of other countries which have introduced the right to request for flexi-work is that it generates initially, some unhappiness among employees who do not have this right to ask for flexi-work. And what has happened over time is that most governments have extended this right to all employees at the workplace.

"So I think we can promote flexi-work more widely among companies to benefit all categories of workers. So I think this recommendation requires further study so that we understand its implications and see how we can develop a win-win solution for both employers and the employees."

He added that timing is key if flexi-work laws were to be introduced.

In a tight labour market, flexi-work may be a burden on the existing workforce if companies are not able to attract more people to return to work.

Mr Koh added: "It's important to consider when you introduce this, whether it's at a time of very high employment, full employment like now in Singapore, or when the workforce is a bit more loose because in a very tight labour market of course, basically, companies would have to redistribute work, so to speak, among their existing employees, when employees go on flexi-work.

"But in a very loose market, employers generally would consider flexi-work as a very good option to reduce man hours without laying off their workers, so I think it serves different purposes and we should study the implications further."

Human resources experts say it may not be necessary to have such a law, but pointed out that flexi-work generally gives employers access to a more diverse talent pool while increasing productivity.

But the key to reaping these benefits is proper workforce planning.

Mr Michael Smith, Director of Randstad Singapore, said: "I think the major challenges that exist relate back to changing the mindset of employers currently, as well as acknowledging that certain industries may find it more difficult to implement such flexible work arrangements, such as those in manufacturing, banking and financial services as well as accounting who have peak periods of work where it may be difficult or they may be hesitant to reduce working hours for women.

"What I feel needs to happen is that Singapore employers need to work in partnership with the government to be more open-minded about driving these sort of flexible work arrangements.

The Ministry of Manpower has said it will consider the PAP Women's Wing's proposals in its policy review.

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