Mr Chua Kheng Wee Louis (Sengkang): Chairman, last year, I spoke in this house about the importance of flexible work arrangements and called upon the Government to lead the adoption of flexible work arrangements (FWAs). In the past two years, COVID-19 has drastically changed the way we work, but as we start to get back on track to living with COVID-19, there is considerable anxiousness and concern that the gains we have made on FWAs could be lost.
The Public Service Division (PSD) has introduced flexible work arrangements but I read with grave concern the Government’s stance that hybrid work is not an entitlement, and that the requirements of the job take precedence. I am concerned that the signalling from the PSD may roll such efforts back in the private sector as well.
Research shows that flexible work arrangements bring various economic benefits, including increased productivity and innovation, better employee morale, as well as attracting more talent. For employees, this can also bring improved work life balance and mental health.
In response to my Parliamentary Question (PQ) in February, Minister Chan noted that some 60% of the Civil Service are in frontline functions, such as schools or the uniformed services agencies, which are not suited to be performed from home on a sustained basis. However, where operationally feasible, Public Service agencies can exercise flexibility and discuss FWAs with these officers.
To me, the starting point has to be that FWAs is an obligation on the part of employers, and thereafter, discussions can be made on how these can be tailored to individual job circumstances.
In a related point on FWAs is the idea of a four-day week. I shared in a speech last year the benefits that this could bring. Since then, the UK has also announced a four-day work week pilot. As shared by the director of the four-day week campaign in the UK, similar programmes are set to start in the US and Ireland, with more planned for Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Many companies and governments have already started to implement flexible work arrangements and four-day work weeks. For example, the Victorian state government has made flexible work available by default to all employees since 2021, focusing on service delivery outcomes, as well as employee support and well-being . Finland’s Working Hours Act, first passed in 1996, was updated to give employees flexibility to shorten or extend their workday by up to four hours. Closer to home, local banks such as UOB and DBS have also instituted permanent flexible work arrangements.
I ask that the Government demonstrate a commitment to this new way of work and maintaining the attractiveness of Singapore as a place to work. I hope the Government will take decisive steps to increase the adoption of FWAs, through legislating a baseline level of flexible work, conducting four-day work week pilots and allowing the Public Service a leadership role to implement more flexible work arrangements.
4 March 2022
Ministry of Manpower