Speech by Er. Dr. Lee Bee Wah in Parliament on the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (Amendment) Bill on 16 Aug 2016
As SkillsFuture gets its own agency, WDA will be renamed the Workforce Singapore Agency, or WSG, and focuses on employment and workplace practices.
I would like to take this opportunity to bring up an issue that has always been discussed by my residents, especially those with young children – that is, flexi-work.
Research has shown that flexi-work can increase productivity. In one study, call-centre workers increased their productivity by 13% when they were allowed to work from home, and that is just short-term productivity. Long-term productivity probably increases as well, as workers feel happier, can balance their personal lives and are less likely to quit.
Flexi-work can benefit our society in other ways too. Workers can find more time to pursue lifelong learning or have kids. Many people have told me that they cannot make it to their children’s childcare centre on time.
Just last night during my Meet-the-People Sessions (MPS), a resident came and spoke to me. She said that she has to reach the childcare centre by 6.00 pm in Yishun and she works in town, and for every minute that she is late, she will have to pay $5. So she said it is very difficult. And if they can work from home, then they can work the same amount of time and still make it to their children’s childcare centre. Even peak hour traffic might decrease.
It is not just about working from home, flexi-hours in office will help as well. Recently, I have a friend who lives in UK and he came to Singapore. He and his wife have a 3-year-old daughter, and they take turns to pick up their daughter from the childcare centre. He said that on the days that he has to pick up his daughter, he will go into office two hours earlier and he will leave two hours earlier. So, in fact, the childcare centre, according to him, closes at 4.00 pm, but they have no problems in bringing their daughter home.
So, if we can have similar flexi-hours, I am sure many of our residents will be happier to have more babies. How many percent of our companies can allow this? A survey in 2014 showed that 47% of companies in Singapore offer at least one form of flexible work arrangements.
But if we look deeper into the survey, most of the flexible arrangements offered were part-time work. Part-time work is not suited for everyone. It often means less pay, less bonuses and no promotions.
For people who want to work full-time, only 12% of companies offer flexible work hours. Less than 10% offer staggered hours and permanent working from home arrangements. If we want to harness the benefits of flexi-work, then these numbers need to go up by quite a lot.
Furthermore, companies offering certain options do not mean employees will take them up. Another survey in 2014 showed that, of the companies that offer flexible working arrangements, only about 15% of workers make use of long-term flexible arrangements.
This could be due to the culture of “face time” in local companies. Many employees feel that they have to be in the office until the bosses leave the office. We work on average 44.3 hours a week, and that is 50% more than the Germans, but our GDP is not 50% more than theirs! This shows that we are not as productive during office hours.
I urge employers to make their culture friendlier to flexi-work, and employees to boldly ask for flexi-work arrangements they need. Some countries have laws that say employees cannot be penalised for asking for flexi-work. Perhaps we can look into this. I note that the Government has provided more grants to employers who introduce flexi-work, and I look forward to the positive results.
Allow me to summarise in Chinese.研究显示，可以让员工选择工作时间和长期在家里工作的本地公司，少过15%。如果这个比例可以增加，相信可以提高我们的生产力，并让国人更能够平衡工作与生活, 也能够鼓励更多国人加入职场。政府已经增加给推行灵活工作安排的公司的津贴，希望可以奏效。此外，我们也应该鼓励雇员积极和雇主商量求灵活工作安排， 不必辞职。
(English translation): A survey revealed that companies that allow workers to have flexi working hours and to work long-term from home accounts for less than 15%. If this ratio can be increased, I believe that it will increase our productivity and also enable our people to enjoy better work-life balance, and thereby encourage more people to join the workforce. The Government has already increased the grants to companies which have flexi-work arrangement. I hope this can work. Moreover, we should also encourage employees to actively approach the employers to discuss flexi-work arrangement so that they do not have to resign.
As I have said earlier, I have a friend who lives in the UK and came to Singapore recently. He and his wife have an adorable 3 year old daughter. He said he and his wife have to pick up their daughter from the childcare centre on time. When it is my friend’s turn to pick up his daughter, he will to go to office two hours earlier so that he can leave the office two hours earlier to pick up his daughter. He said that this is a very common practice in the UK.
We hope that such practice can also become common in Singapore, and hopefully it can encourage Singaporeans to have more children.
Madam, I support this Bill and hope WSG will further promote all types of flexible working arrangements. Thank you.