SPEECH BY ER DR LEE BEE WAH, MP FOR NEE SOON GRC, ON THE “ASPIRATIONS OF SINGAPORE WOMEN” IN PARLIAMENT IN APRIL 2017
What are the aspirations of Singapore women?
Many would want to be a caring mother, loving wife, filial daughters and dutiful daughter-in-law, plus a successful career women. To be very honest, women are in general still shouldering more family care responsibilities. So flexible work arrangements, or flexi-work, will be especially important to their careers.
The recent Conditions of Employment survey showed some improvement in the number of workers who can access flexi-work, especially ad-hoc flexi-work, like unplanned time-off and ad-hoc tele-working. But worryingly, the momentum seems to have slackened.
The proportion of firms offering formal flexi-work, like flexible hours and working from home, has not increased. In fact, only 6.2% of firms allow their workers to work from home permanently. This is much less than many countries. For example in the US, around 45% of the working population works from home.
I have also heard that the tendency is for employers to offer flexi-work to older workers, particularly to those holding lower positions, whose work they feel are more dispensable or less important to the company. But flexi-work is essential to everyone, especially young parents who are juggling the care of children, or those who are taking care of aged parents. Can the government look into the profile of workers with flexi-work, and see if we can do more to expand it?
Many firms don’t offer long-term flexi-work because they are scared it will affect their productivity or they don’t trust their staff. They’re afraid “working from home” will turn into “shirking from home”. But studies show that this isn’t the case.
In one Stanford study, call center workers increased their productivity by 13% when they work from home. They worked longer hours, but simultaneously were happier.
That’s in the short term. In the long term, firms with more flexi-work have lower turnover, as noted by MOM’s report. Specifically, firms can retain more female talent with flexi-work. Unfortunately, many women choose to leave the workforce when they can’t balance work and family responsibilities. When more people in the family have flexi-work options, they can also help out with family responsibilities more, so that the women don’t have to leave the workforce altogether.
The lack of flexi-work is part of a bigger problem, which is the culture of face-time in local offices. Bosses like to see employees spending long hours at their desks, even if studies show that such employees are not more productive. If flexi-work takes off, then bosses will have to adapt to a culture where they don’t see their employees at their desks for long hours. They will learn to assess employees only on their work, not on the amount of “face-time”. Hopefully, this will help even employees who don’t take up flexi-work, to cut down on unproductive “face-time”. I hope employers will seriously relook their operations and HR practices, to accommodate more flexi-work.
It may also encourage more women to have children.
Retirement Inadequacy for home-makers
Even as we help more women stay in the workforce with flexi work, we can’t forget women who have left it for whatever reason.
Many full-time homemakers do not have adequate CPF savings, even though women live longer than men and need even more retirement savings.There are two main ways to address this.
First, to encourage lifelong learning and paths back into the workforce for younger homemakers, so they can re-enter the workforce when they want to. Give them more SkillsFuture credits, or enable the transfer of unused credits from family members. Sourcing for more effective e-Learning courses and putting them in the list of courses applicable for SkillsFuture subsidies would make them more accessible for homemakers.
Second, for older homemakers who can’t work much anymore, Government can allow auto transfer from spouse’s CPF when her spouse CPF saving has reached full retirement sum unless her spouse opt out. If budget allows, Government can give dollar for dollar matching, up to a certain maximum sum. Inertia will ensure that a significant amount gets transferred to these women, who have given their whole lives to build their families and country.
Allow me to summarise in Chinese.
I move that the House support this motion. Thank you.