Monday 16 September 2013

More flexibility for NSmen on family events: All-female panel

By Jermyn Chow, The Sunday Times, 15 Sep 2013

Families matter as much as serving the nation - so operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) should get time off from their annual in-camp training to attend important family functions.

This call came from participants in an all-female focus-group discussion on how to strengthen the commitment to national service.

The 22 women said men should be given flexibility to arrange their schedules so they can spend more time with loved ones. They want them to be released from training to attend occasions such as births, deaths and weddings.

Currently, NSmen do not get time off for such events unless they get special permission from superiors.

Accounts and administrative executive Cecilia Ho, who has a 27-year-old son, said: "While we recognise that they have to train to defend the country, they also have to play their family role and it will be good if they are present during important family events."

The topic of balancing NS commitment and family life was a major issue during the three-hour session at Safra Toa Payoh club.

It was also attended by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower, community members, mothers, teachers and executives.

Dr Khor, who sits on the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS), recognised that giving NSmen flexibility for family commitments is a good idea and said that it should be seriously considered as part of a "good human resource practice".

Currently, after completing two years of compulsory service, NSmen are called up every year for 10 years, for up to 40 days of in-camp training each time.

Friday evening's session was the first all-female group for the second phase of the CSNS focus-group discussion.

For this round of talks, which will end next month, specific themes have been identified from the first phase of consultations for more in-depth discussion.

Other suggestions included allowing women to volunteer in the armed forces and cutting NS stints from two years to one.

The views will be channelled to the CSNS, which is chaired by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

The 20-member committee is made up of ministers, MPs, top military brass, NSmen and employers.

* Strengthen NS 'Flash a smile at those in uniform'
Go easy on criticisms of citizen soldiers, urge students at forum on how to boost NS
By Jermyn Chow, The Sunday Times, 29 Sep 2013

Be careful about criticism, and offer a simple smile.

These were several of the suggestions from young people as they urged more respect and recognition for Singapore's citizen soldiers at a focus group discussion on how to strengthen national service.

The 70 students, aged between 17 and 20, were from junior colleges, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

Most said they were satisfied with the Government's efforts in rewarding and recognising full- time national servicemen (NSFs) who serve the mandatory two-year stints, as well as operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen).

But they felt that the rest of the country can do more.

The public, for instance, should be more guarded in their criticisms of NSFs caught in less than flattering scenarios through photos that are posted online.

In 2011, a picture of a maid carrying an army backpack while walking behind an NSF was posted on citizen journalism website Stomp, sparking an uproar among netizens. They questioned whether the new generation of servicemen were becoming too "soft".

One student, who did not want to be named, said yesterday: "Rather than criticise these soldiers, they should understand the context in which the photo was taken."

As to how to better reward national servicemen, a majority suggested incentives like a higher NS allowance, tax breaks and discounted bus and train fares for those serving.

But it did not always have to be about money.

Others suggested holding a camp where people can experience army life, creating an "NS Appreciation Day" holiday, and simply flashing a smile at those in uniform.

ITE Simei student Hazel Lim Yen Ling, 17, said: "A smile may be a small thing to do but it will go a long way in brightening up the day for the soldier and motivate him to do better."

Even as the students brainstormed ideas on how to better recognise national servicemen, there were some who said the soldier himself has to behave appropriately when in uniform.

Nanyang Polytechnic student Teo Hun Ing, who will be enlisted next year, said: "Respect should not be demanded but must be earned. The servicemen have to prove themselves as worthy soldiers."

Pioneer Junior College student Lim Xuan Zheng, who will also start serving next year, said: "We cannot just depend on others or the Government to be motivated in serving the country. It is a personal responsibility."

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan, who sits on the Government's Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS), attended the 31/2-hour discussion at The Chevrons Club.

She said she was surprised that while most participants wanted the public to do more to appreciate servicemen, they still felt that the Government should take the lead in spearheading the change.

"But the Government cannot do everything and everyone has a big role to play to ensure that attitudes on the ground will change."

Yesterday's discussion was part of a year-long series of focus groups and feedback sessions being spearheaded by CSNS.

The views will be sent to the committee chaired by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and proposals will be tabled next year.

* Call to give small firms NS incentives
These could spur them to free employees for in-camp training, says focus group
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2013

EMPLOYERS called on the Government yesterday to offer incentives to small firms to let operationally ready national servicemen attend in-camp training (ICT) as it looks for ways to get more buy-in from employers for national service (NS).

These can be in the form of tax breaks or cash incentives for hiring NSmen as well as government help with employer Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions when employees are called up.

These sugggestions were made during an employers-only focus group discussion on how to strengthen commitment to national service.

The 33 participants from companies and employer bodies said such benefits will go some way towards spurring bosses to prevent their NSmen from deferring ICT, and arrange for their duties to be parcelled out whenever the annual NS training comes up. Small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) hamstrung by small staff size can benefit more from such monetary benefits, they said.

Ms Irene Boey, consulting director of home-grown technology firm Integral Solutions, said cash incentives will be a "sweetener" for small companies. Ms Boey, who also sits on the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises Council, said: "Losing a staff every few months to ICT makes a big impact on us as it creates a big vacuum."

Participants also called on the Defence Ministry to let them know about their employees' call-up schedules for better staff deployment and to minimise disruptions in the companies.

Currently, NSmen are informed three or six months before their NS training. The onus is on them to show their bosses the call-up notices. The employer can also call up the NS training notice on the NS website by typing in an employee's details.

A few employers suggested a one-stop portal be set up for them to view the NS training commitments of their male staff.

Another suggestion was to give NSmen from small companies more leeway to defer NS training.

Second Defence Minister Chan Chun Sing, who sits on the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS), attended the discussion.He said that while more will be done to recognise employers who support NS, his ministry had to be careful not to monetise the rite of passage. "We don't want to just reward but recognise the efforts," he said.

The focus group discussion on strengthening NS is in its second phase, which will end next month.

The views will be channelled to the CSNS, which is expected to issue a report to the Government early next year. The 20-member body, made up of ministers, MPs, top military brass, NSmen and employers, is chaired by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

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