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Parliamentary updates: MOM on workplace bullying, childcare leave, and Work Pass exemption

Earlier this week, Singapore's Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo released a set of parliamentary replies, relating to studies on workplace bullying, clarifications on childcare leave, and on foreign instructors conducting classes as a Work Pass exempt activity.

These replies are summarised below:

First, Member of Parliament (MP) Pritam Singh raised a question on whether local or independent studies/surveys have been carried out on workplace bullying in Singapore, following the release of the Kantar Inclusion Index recently, which was reported to say one in four Singaporeans are bullied at work.

In response, Minister Teo firstly, cited a 2018 MOM survey, which stated that 2.4% of the resident labour force reported having personally experienced bullying or harassment at their workplace.

She noted that MOM's survey, where respondents were asked to recall actual incidences of bullying at work, adopts a similar methodology used in the European Working Conditions Survey, where the corresponding figure for Italy is 3.0% and Spain is 3.2%.

Secondly, she noted that Kantar’s study was based only on results from 14 countries, but claimed that 19% of employees from around the world have been “bullied, undermined, or harassed”, compared to 20% in Canada, and 24% in Singapore. It also claimed that Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain fared better but did not offer statistics for comparison.

On this, she clarified: "Notably, the Kantar press release conflated bullying, harassment, and being 'undermined'. This possibly explains the large gap between their reported figures and the official statistics that were just cited.

"Various media outlets that reported off the Kantar press release thus presented the same skewed picture. We would caution readers to exercise judgement when reading such reports or indices."

Clarifications regarding MOM's website write-up on taking childcare leave

In another query, MP Louis Ng Kok Kwang asked the ministry to clarify certain aspects of childcare leave eligibility as cited using the following phrases on the ministry's website:

(i) "Matters that cannot be postponed" and whether a child's sickness falls under this category;(ii) "Early notice" as well as how much in advance employees should give notice to their employers before taking childcare leave for "matters that cannot be postponed".

On the point of understanding 'early notice', Minister Teo said essentially this refers to employees providing "lead-time for employers to make alternative arrangements to cover the work duties of the employee where necessary". This lead-time, she added, could be longer for businesses operating on shifts, to find alternative covering arrangements, while others may not need any lead-time at all.

"It would therefore not be helpful to prescribe, in terms of number of hours or days, what constitutes sufficient early notice," she affirmed.

Equally, she added that it would not be practical to expect employees to be able to give advance notice of matters which cannot be foreseen and cannot be postponed for example, their child falling ill suddenly.

In light of the issue raised, Minister Teo concluded that the ministry will review the current information up on the website in order to make the details of childcare leave clearer.

Why foreign instructors may conduct classses as a Work Pass exempt activity

In a third question, Nominated MP (NMP) Assoc Prof Walter Theseira asked the ministry for reasons why foreign instructors can conduct classes in Singapore as a Work Pass exempt activity, provided no administrative work is carried out.

To this, Minister Teo replied: "MOM exempts foreigners conducting workshops or speaking at seminars or conferences from the requirement to apply for a Work Pass, as such activities typically take place over a short period of time and the individuals do not become part of our regular workforce."

Additionally, NMP Theseira asked about the reasons for the exclusion of administrative work for such foreign instructors, and whether this exclusion can be waived in cases where educational objectives can be strengthened through having the same instructor integrate teaching and assessment.

Responding, Minister Teo clarified that the exemption does not cover foreigners employed as faculty of instructors of an education institution (permanently). She added: "Such faculty or instructors would typically also perform other administrative duties, such as setting and grading of assessment materials.

"In these cases, MOM requires the educational institution to apply for a Work Pass for the particular instructor."

Photo / 123RF

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