Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong (Non-Constituency Member): Chairman, according to the Minister, the proportion of employers with at least 25 employees providing one form of flexible work arrangements (FWA) stands at 47% in 2014. However, the actual number of employees who utilise FWAs appears to be very low. According to the Minister, the FWA incentive under the Work-Life Grant has covered about 900 Singaporean employees in two and half years
Incentives are low and insufficient to encourage the utilisation of FWA. The current FWA set up is entirely dependent on employers' voluntary initiative. Giving employees the right to apply for the Work-Life Grant to fashion and take up FWAs in their companies with their employers incentivised by the Government grant to accept, can overcome employees' inertia to FWA adoption. After employees initiate such applications, employers can refuse a request on reasonable business grounds but must discuss options available with the employees with the Ministry acting as facilitator.
Another thing that the Ministry could consider under the Work-Life Grant is to promote all-roles flex for larger Singapore companies. Last year, PriceWaterhouse Coopers Australia extended flexible working to all 6,000 employees. In all-roles flex, employees' performance rather than actual face time and hours spent working become the most important criterion for work evaluation. Vesting employees, such flexibility allows them to be at their best, fosters happy families so that employees can focus on their work and therefore, positively impacts productivity.
The Minister of State for Manpower (Mr Teo Ser Luck): Mr Chairman, I am addressing the House about the Lean Enterprise Development (LED) Scheme.
The work of the HR professionals has become more demanding. As the expectations increases from bosses to workers to everybody, sometimes, they are sandwiched in the middle. Many times, the expectation from the workers or the employees is about the work-to-personal time ratio. As Ms Jessica Tan had mentioned: how do you integrate that work and that life together? It is not easy to find that integration.
We encourage Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) in the workplace. And it is a very critical component and critical success factor for any good company that wants to retain its staff, wants to keep it more dynamic, and also wants to recruit personnel.
Ms Jessica Tan is right to highlight that FWAs can help businesses thrive, leveraging technology to do so, enhancing it. For example, hot-desking, working from home, working from any other place – it is a flexible workplace. We know that the majority of global businesses have reported increases in employee productivity and company revenue as a result of implementing FWAs. Microsoft is one of them.
More businesses are recognising these benefits. The proportion of companies offering at least one form of formal FWA to their employees has increased from 38% in 2011 to 47% in 2014, but it is a never-ending effort to get more companies on board. I agree with Ms Jessica and Mr Desmond Choo that more should be done.
The Tripartite Committee on Work-Life Strategy (TriCom), which includes representatives from Trade Associations, has launched several initiatives. The Tripartite Advisory on Flexible Work Arrangements was launched in November 2014 to help employers, supervisors and employees through the journey of implementing FWAs. But more efforts in awareness and education are needed. So, we rolled out the Work-Life campaign, which concluded in March 2016, to reinforce that Flexible Work Arrangements would benefit both employers and employees.
An online resource portal will also be launched to provide employers and employees with a one-stop access to resources related to the adoption of Flexible Work Arrangements. Both initiatives are targeted to be launched in the second half of 2016. Moving forward, we will take a more targeted approach towards some of the sectors that are facing challenges to adopt the Flexible Work Arrangements.
We note Mr Desmond Choo and Assoc Prof Daniel Goh have asked about Work-Life Grant (WLG) adoption rates. The take-up of the Work-Life Grant is improving, from 287 applications in 2014 to 549 applications in December 2015. In particular, the take-up rate of the Developmental Grant (DG), which defrays the cost of companies on a pilot scheme, is increasing.
Mr Desmond Choo has asked about the Government's stance on legislating Flexible Work Arrangements. In countries like the United Kingdom and Australia, the law provides employees with the right to request for such arrangements, but employers also have the right to consider these requests and refuse them. Assoc Prof Daniel Goh had also suggested a similar arrangement.
We need to carefully study the pros and cons of having such legislation in Singapore, as being pro-business as well as pro-worker. How do we keep that balance? The success of it depends on integration of different factors – for example, the perception of such a practice within the society, and employers' and co-workers' attitudes towards Flexible Work Arrangements. In other countries, Flexible Work Arrangements are usually fairly prevalent before this legislation. That will not stop us from taking a review as well as making sure that we continue the awareness and education campaign. Fundamentally, employers and employees need to understand and be committed before such a culture can be in place.
Chairman, a large part of this Budget is about helping SMEs in the industry, and our workforce, to adapt and grow, for better jobs and better careers. We rolled out so many different schemes – LED, LED Multipliers, HR certification and HR/HC, the Work-Life Grant. Most importantly, mindsets need to shift, for SMEs need to have the spirit of enterprise to make the change, take that leap of faith and take action on it. The Government can only do so much. We are left with the SMEs to help themselves.
Transformation is not easy, but nothing comes easy. But if we put our hearts and minds together, I am sure we can build and ride the fourth wave of economic success towards the future.
Full debate transcript