Mr Chua Kheng Wee Louis: When DORSCON Green was announced, many Singaporeans shared their fears of having to go back to the pre-COVID-19 way of work – and this has for the most part been quite true.
In fact, many bosses are asking their staff to work from the office, with a preference to “see” their staff working, for fear of them not producing work. As I shared in my Budget debate speech, one friend quipped that his boss said, and I paraphrase, “if you are not in the office, how do I know that you are working?”
This old myth needs debunking. One of many studies has shown that a Chinese company saw a 13% increase in productivity for employees allowed to work remotely in a work-from-home (WFH) experiment. Last year, I called for the public service to take a leadership role and undertake a four-day work week pilot, similar to the one which companies in the UK embarked on. I am pleased to update this House that more than nine out of 10 companies that adopted a four-day working week in the UK trial will continue to use the more flexible way of operating, according to findings.
The White Paper on Women’s Development has also proposed Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA) to be a “pervasive and sustainable workplace norm”, to foster a more inclusive work environment especially for married women who may otherwise leave the workforce significantly earlier than men. A normalised FWA will enable employees’ FWA requests to be considered fairly, instead of not giving them the real option to begin with.
We understand that there is the Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangements that will be ready by 2024. And leading up to this, I find it pertinent to maintain that these guidelines should be legislated and enforced, and not be seen as mere guidelines that leaves companies the option of not even extending this option to their employees.
I have mentioned in my previous speeches how other governments have legislated and are looking at ways to strengthen worker’s rights to FWAs, with the key intent on creating a more inclusive work environment for all.
Given the numerous benefits FWA has on women, young parents and the overall well-being of an individual, this should not be seen as a “good to have” or “extra”, but as part and parcel of what companies should offer to their employees.
We had an opportunity to experience what it could look like to have FWAs. I hope that my worst fears of a return to pre-COVID-19 workplace norms in Singapore will not come true.
Ministry of Manpower
1 March 2023