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MOM clarifies concerns around Singapore's upcoming guidelines on flexible work arrangement requests

MOM clarifies concerns around Singapore's upcoming guidelines on flexible work arrangement requests

"Where there is an existing process, whether formal or informal, and it is working well for both employer and employee, the employee should use the process stipulated by the company to request for FWAs," Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang said.

From 1 December 2024, Singapore’s new guidelines on flexible work arrangement (FWA) requests will take effect and employers are to properly consider FWA requests based on business grounds.  

In lieu of this, the Minister of State for Education and Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang has responded to a series of parliamentary queries on The Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangement Requests (TG-FWAR).

The Ministry addressed questions pertaining to:  

  • How the TG-FWA requests impact employers and the support that will be made available to them.  
  • The impact on employability of locals and Singapore's attractiveness as a business hub.  

It was first highlighted that Singapore consists of a rapidly ageing population, with one in four Singaporeans being above 65 years old by 2030. 

MOS Gan added that more seniors will want to continue working but in a more flexible manner.  

“Flexible work arrangements are therefore another important initiative to help us optimise our local workforce potential in the long term.  

Employers who implement FWAs well will also benefit, as they will be able to hire from a larger local manpower pool,” MOS Gan shared. 

She also emphasised that the guidelines have been developed and consulted extensively between the Tripartite Workgroup, employees, the unions, employers and HR professionals, and assured that the FWAs would not be mandated or set hard targets. 

“There are a myriad and spectrum of businesses, service types and sector specific needs which vary widely that serve different segments of the economy, including essential services. 

“For FWAs to be successful, it must make businesses sustainable for employers.” 

“It does not make sense to require businesses to offer FWAs even when it negatively impacts their business and affect employment prospects for Singaporeans.  

“Employers should therefore continue to have the prerogative to determine work arrangements that work for the team, business and clients”, she commented.  

MOS Gan also emphasised that the aim of the Guidelines is to ensure that the right norms are established and that employees and their employers will be able to have constructive conversations so that both sides will be able to work out mutually beneficial FWA requests. 

“Employers must therefore consider FWA requests based on business grounds, such as job requirements and impact to business productivity. 

“Tripartite partners agree that this is a reasonable and practical approach which balances the needs of both employers and employees", MOS Gan shared.  

In that vein, the Ministry addressed two of the major concerns from members of Parliament. 

Firstly, the impact of FWAs on employers and the support available.  

MOS Gan addressed that FWAs to not equate to only just working from home, in fact, there is a myriad of FWAs that employers can adopt based on the industry context and job role, whilst maintaining high-productivity levels and ensuring the needs of both their employees and organisation are met. 

“For instance, those in sectors and jobs where the work must be done onsite may not be able to work from home, but employers can still explore options such as flexi-time and flexi-load.” 

MOS Gan clarified that the formal process for requesting FWAs as per the Guidelines would be useful mainly for organisations that do not already have any processes in place for their employees to request for FWAs. “Where there is an existing process, whether formal or informal, and it is working well for both employer and employee, the employee should use the process stipulated by the company to request for FWAs. 

“What is more important is for employees and employers to be able to discuss and land on arrangements that address their respective needs and constraints, and maintain harmonious working relationships, MOS Gan commented.  

The leader reassured that the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) and the Institute for Human Resource Professionals will help employers by rolling out a range of self-help resources such as case studies, templates, and e-learning modules, which are accessible on TAFEP’s website. 

In addition, TAFEP will conduct monthly briefings for all employers starting from May. 

MOS Gan said: “The first few runs have already been fully subscribed.  

“TAFEP will also provide more guidance to help employers understand the types of FWAs they can offer to employees with different needs, such as senior employees who may prefer flexi-load, or mobility-challenged workers who may need telecommuting arrangements. 

“These resources and briefings will guide employers on how to comply with the Guidelines, but more importantly, how to implement FWAs well such that it supports business needs.  

Employers can also tap on grants such as the Productivity Solutions Grant to offset the costs of adopting FWAs, such as for consultancy services to redesign jobs or business processes and upgrade their IT systems to support FWAs”, MOS Gan added.  

The Ministry also addressed that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) may need more targeted support, which is why TAFEP & IHRP will be working closely with the Association for Small and Medium Enterprises and the SME Centres to organise briefings and training sessions for SMEs in FWA implementation. 

Secondly, the Ministry spoke about the impact of employability of locals and attractiveness as a business hub. 

When addressing the potential impact, the Guidelines will have on Singaporeans’ employment prospects, MOS Gan said that with or without the Guidelines, remote work and outsourcing are already global trends, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“Whether the trend will continue depends on whether employers feel that it makes business sense, and employers will need to weigh the pros and cons. 

“Similarly, even if foreigners are not working in Singapore, they will still be competing with us when working in companies overseas.  

“What is more important is for our workers to continually upskill, sharpen our competitive edge, and stay productive. We will then be able to compete effectively for jobs not just in Singapore, but globally”, MOS Gan commented.  

MOS Gan concluded her speech by highlighting a few key takeaways:  

  1. FWAs are an increasingly important tool for employers to attract talent both locally and globally. 
  2. The Guidelines allow employers to decide on FWA requests depending on what works for their team, business and clients. 
  3. The Guidelines aim to shape the right norms and expectations around FWAs. 

“Employees ought to use FWAs responsibly, even as employers develop HR processes and capabilities to implement FWAs well and productively.  

“Finally, we will continue to provide resources and tools to support this, and hope that employers and employees will both do their part to achieve win-win outcomes, and ultimately, more inclusive workplaces in Singapore”, MOS Gan concluded.  

Adding to the conversation in a separate Parliamentary response, when asked about the TG-FWAR in the context of the Public Service, Minister for Education and Minister-in-charge of the Public Service Chan Chun Sing said: “We welcome greater adoption of FWAs in the Public Service as we strive to help public officers better balance work and personal responsibilities (e.g., caregiving duties) while continuing to uphold our duties and service to the public.” 

READ MORE: FAQs on Singapore's upcoming guidelines on flexible work arrangement requests

Lead image / 123RF

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