Sunday 18 October 2015

Civil servants to get one day of volunteer leave per year from 1 January 2016

DPM Teo says public service will encourage a culture of volunteerism, caring among officers
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2015

From next year, all civil servants can take one day of leave every year to volunteer in a registered charity of their choice. This is on top of the annual leave of this group of 82,000 officers.

The public service will also adopt at least 50 charities next year.

A senior officer in each ministry will be appointed to champion and facilitate volunteerism among employees in the ministry and its statutory boards.

These moves, coming in Singapore's Jubilee year, seek to signal the commitment of the country's largest employer to building a culture of volunteering and caring.

"A culture of volunteerism is essential for fostering a caring and cohesive society in Singapore," said the head of the civil service, Mr Peter Ong, yesterday at the opening of a three-day exhibition on the public service's past and future, held at the Suntec Convention and Exhibition Centre Hall.

Speaking at its opening, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, the minister in charge of the civil service, reiterated the need for the public service to be caring, coordinated and connected. "Beyond daily work, the public service will encourage a culture of volunteerism and caring among our public officers."

The civil servants, however, have to use their one-day leave to volunteer at an Institution of a Public Character, which is a charity held to a higher standard.The leave is part of their unrecorded leave, which is capped at 14 days a year and typically used for approved reasons such as parental care and marriage.

Mr Teo also said a well-coordinated public service, where ministries and agencies work closely with one another, is needed to develop and deliver policies well.

The public service needs to stay connected with Singaporeans as well, so that it can better understand their concerns and work with them, he added, noting that citizens increasingly want "to play a more active role in shaping our community and national policies".

Mr Teo also launched a two-volume book set, Heart Of Public Service, featuring 50 officers who have been part of key milestones in Singapore's history. More than 300 public officers and agencies also received from him awards for excellent service and innovation.

Civil servant Mok Yee Soon, 28, who volunteers with Lion Befrienders, said: "It gives me more opportunities to volunteer based on the charity's needs."

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin lauded the move, saying on Facebook the Government should walk the talk.

Charity Council chairman Gerard Ee said it would encourage many who do not ordinarily volunteer to give it a go. "It could also lead to private-sector workers asking their bosses: 'Why don't we have this too? After all, one day is not a lot.'"

Some small firms, however, may find it a burden to give an extra day of leave, noted Mr Victor Tay, vice-chair of United Nations Global Compact, which champions corporate social responsibility.

"Businesses know they need to be good corporate citizens to succeed, but volunteering is still very much on a voluntary basis."

Fostering spirit of volunteering
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2015

From next year, all 82,000 civil servants can take one day of leave every year to volunteer in a charity.

The civil service is the largest employer in Singapore and this move translates to a whopping 656,000 hours of volunteer time, or the equivalent of around 350 full-time volunteers, a year.

Given that the social service sector has only about 1,400 accredited professionals such as social workers, 350 additional pairs of hands would help immensely with the manpower crunch. While this move shows the Government is walking the talk, its impact could be more symbolic than significant if certain barriers to leave usage are not addressed.

Since as early as 15 years ago, banks and other large corporations have been offering one to five days of paid volunteer leave. But at 10 companies polled by The Straits Times two years ago, the take-up rates were dismal. Some had rates of 2 per cent to 4 per cent; even the one with the best response had only 28 per cent. One key reason for this, the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre said then, was that some employees feared their supervisor would not be supportive or co-workers might not be happy covering for them when they use the leave.

In a work-oriented culture, mindset changes will take time. To set the tone, management at the highest levels must be seen to use the leave first. Some banks here even make community work part of staff performance objectives.

Besides barriers to using the leave, there is also the risk of what the Chinese call "yue bang yue mang", or "the more one tries to help, the more trouble one creates". Social workers often have to squeeze out time from their casework to train and guide clueless volunteers. Having only one day of volunteer leave means the staff have to do this time and time again. Just give us money instead, some cash-strapped charities would cry.

Challenges aside, extending volunteer leave is worth a shot. It may be just one day of exposure but, hopefully, that is enough to whet employees' appetite for volunteerism and for them to go back for more.

It’s launched! Heart of Public Service is a two-volume book-set that honours the institutions and officers of the...
Posted by PSD Singapore on Thursday, October 15, 2015

He fights on to keep public safe, from malaria to SARS
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2015

When illegal hawkers thronged the back alleys of Singapore in the 1970s and fuelled the spread of diseases such as typhoid and malaria through unhygienic practices, Mr Kehar Singh had the unenviable job of clearing them out.

Once, he narrowly missed getting what could have been a fatal injury when a coconut seller near Upper Changi Road lunged at him and four other public health officers with an ice pick when they tried to put an end to his illegal business.

As a public health officer, Mr Singh, 66, has weathered various crises, such as the 1974 malaria outbreak and the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crisis, since he joined the Health Ministry in 1970. His story and other similarly engaging tales that depict the physical and social changes in Singapore are documented in Heart Of Public Service, a two-volume book set. It was launched by the Public Service Division yesterday.

The first volume, Our Institutions, traces the evolution of key public institutions. The second volume, Our People, chronicles the experiences of 50 public servants.

Some, like Military Expert 4 Lum E Von, have ventured into new territories. She was the first woman in the Singapore Armed Forces to be deployed to Afghanistan in 2009.

Mr Mohd Marhan Hanef, 37, followed in his father's footsteps by joining water agency PUB as a technical officer. His father, Mohd Hanef Fadel, 67, retired recently as a section head and senior technical officer at Kranji Reservoir. "My father started as a daily-rated worker, but he pushed himself to improve. He is my role model," said Mr Marhan.

Many of these officers who spend much of their working hours on the ground witnessed first-hand Singapore's changing landscape.

Mr Singh was also involved in the Singapore River clean-up following his transfer in the 1970s to the Environment Ministry.

It lasted from 1977 to 1987: "We had to walk around and trace the sources of pollution. The illegal hawkers used to litter everywhere and, when heavy rain comes, all the dirty food scraps would all wash down into the Singapore River."

In 1974, Singapore was hit by a malaria outbreak, affecting almost 60 people. Containing it was a trying process that demanded "constant surveillance" by taking blood samples and tracking down cases. By 1982, Singapore was declared malaria-free.

The SARS outbreak in 2003, however, stunned everyone. "We had already attained such a high standard of public health and paved the way for access to clean water, but this disease was airborne," said Mr Singh.

Singapore was enveloped in an atmosphere of fear, with many SARS patients initially refusing to be admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital for treatment. "They thought that they were doomed once they entered the hospital," he said.

At the Communicable Disease Centre, he and 11 other health officers worked with mobilised army personnel to interview SARS patients and trace their points of contact so that quarantine orders could be issued. "We left no stone unturned. It was important that we had a very good system of inter-ministry cooperation, so that we could mobilise fast and trace individuals' addresses," he recalled.

Mr Singh, who is now back at the Ministry of Health, has taken fewer than 20 days of medical leave throughout his 45 years on the job.

Having retired at 62 and then been re-employed, he is now in charge of tracing tuberculosis patients who refuse to take their medication and making sure they go for hospital treatments.

Officers like us will always have a role to play. You can never predict what kind of diseases might strike us from overseas," he said.

Volunteer leave for civil servants can create long-term impact: Charity leaders
Many may return to do more and be more sensitive to causes
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2015

The move to give all civil servants a day off to volunteer at registered charities can have a strategic, long-term impact, leaders in the charity sector said.

For one thing, if properly engaged, many in this group could return and even become long-term volunteers.

Such close encounters with charities could also see more of them becoming sensitive to the needs of the less fortunate, they added.

In addition, charities can run more activities and reach out to more people under the new scheme offered to 82,000 civil servants from next year, they said.

But "the scheme is only as good as the extent to which volunteers are properly matched in terms of what they can contribute to what the charities and their beneficiaries truly need and appreciate", said Ms Denise Phua, Mayor of Central Singapore District who co-founded Pathlight School for autistic children.

Agreeing, Mr Willie Cheng, who sits on the boards of several non- profit groups, said: "Don't see them as free labour."

Deploy them "intelligently" and they are likely to return and even become long-term volunteers, he added. Also, volunteers tend to donate more to the organisation they volunteer for, compared with non-volunteers, noted Mr Cheng, who is chairman of the Singapore Institute of Directors.

For Mr Dennis Lim, chief executive of the Bishan Home for the Intellectually Disabled, the scheme's major benefit is greater awareness being created among more civil servants about the plight of the less fortunate.

"Without interacting with these people, you won't understand the difficulties they go through in trying to live normal lives," he said.

"A lot of requests - for subsidies, flexibility - go to the civil service. If civil servants can understand the extent of some disabilities, they will be more sympathetic and sensitive to issues these people face."

While a single day may seem little, charities say every extra pair of hands is welcome, especially for large-scale events.

"If we organise a charity carnival, for example, we may need volunteers to man the booth and help sell merchandise," said Ms Tan Bee Heong, general manager of The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund. The fund relied on about 600 volunteers this year for its Flag Day in May and other activities that make sure that about 14,000 needy students get cash for their school expenses.

Mr David Chan, executive director of Care Community Services Society (CCSS), was likewise cheered by the scheme.

"When I heard about the volunteer leave, the first thing I wanted to do was to e-mail all the ministries and agencies to let them know of the different programmes we have," he said.

CCSS runs programmes for children, seniors and youth from low- income families, as well as former prison inmates.

Some civil servants are already doing their bit for charity.

Since 2013, some officers from the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth have been reading weekly to children from the Stamford CareHut student care centre to foster a love of reading in them.

Over two days this year, the ministry's officers also spruced up the flat of a child from the programme, painting walls and installing new furniture.

The public service hopes that the extra day of leave will encourage more civil servants to take part in such projects.

Some help may not come in the form of just being there physically, said Ms Phua. She cited how a former National Parks Board officer introduced an orchid gardener to a charity to provide training and jobs to special-needs adults.

What about volunteers not liking the tasks they are given? Observers say this tends not to be a big issue, as charities also try to find a good fit.

Said Mr Chan: "If people really have the passion to volunteer, depending on their skills and what they're good in, we'll know where to deploy them. It'll come naturally to them."

Firms offering volunteer leave see more using it
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2015

Companies that offer workers paid leave to volunteer have seen a gradual rise in take-up rates, but those who use it remain in the minority.

As early as 15 years ago, some companies started offering between one and five days of such leave. They will be joined by civil servants next year, who will get one day of leave a year to volunteer at a charity.

Among companies that have paid volunteer leave is Standard Chartered Bank, which started this in 2007. In 2010, it raised such leave from two to three days a year.

A bank spokesman said that, since 2013, an average of 40 per cent of its staff members have been using this leave. This is a jump from about 28 per cent in 2012. The bank attributes the rise to a growth in the culture of volunteerism.

Ms Lee Woei Shiuan, the bank's executive director for governance, said having paid volunteer leave has raised participation in the bank's volunteering events. Besides using all of such leave since it was implemented for activities such as a food distribution exercise, she has helped to launch other bankwide employee volunteering events.

"It is helpful for people to be able to volunteer on weekdays," she said, as welfare organisations tend to see more volunteers on weekends. "The leave gives employees a chance to try out volunteering, and embeds this in company culture."

Real estate company CapitaLand, which formalised three days of such leave in 2006, saw the numbers pick up in recent years.

Group chief corporate officer Tan Seng Chai said 31 per cent of staff took the leave last year. This is nearly six times its take-up rate of 5.3 per cent in 2007. Those who apply for the leave have to provide details such as the name of the organisation they are volunteering at and activities they plan to take part in, he said.

Activities may include fund-raising events such as charity runs.

Singapore Pools said it has seen a rise in take-up rate among its 600 staff, from about 32 per cent in 2010 to about 43 per cent last year.

Meanwhile, OCBC Singapore said about 1,100 employees took part in weekday volunteering activities last year, up from about 450 in 2010.

At Citi Singapore, the number of employees using such leave has not changed from about two years ago.

About 100 employees took it in the past 12 months, said head of corporate affairs Adam Rahman.

He believes, though, that the take-up rate alone does not reflect staff involvement in volunteerism. "Many employees volunteer over weekends and, as a result, not many use their paid volunteer leave."

Companies here continue to introduce volunteer leave. Maybank started giving one day of such leave in January to encourage staff volunteerism. This was in response to requests from staff and feedback from volunteer welfare organisations, which get more requests to host weekend activities, said head of human capital Wong Keng Fye.

While there may be manpower costs in granting paid volunteer leave, Mr John Quek, project consultant of human resource consultancy firm Worklife Solutions, said: "It may be negligible if such a policy brings about a positive change in the employee's attitude, which can lead to better performance."

Ms Linda Teo, country manager of recruitment firm ManpowerGroup Singapore, said that when volunteerism is a strong part of company culture, "the goodwill generated by the support of such causes is invaluable".

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