All employers in Singapore must have a process in place for workers to make formal requests for flexible work arrangements from December, when new tripartite guidelines come into effect. The guidelines state that employers should communicate their decision within two months of a request for flexible work arrangements. While employers have the right to reject such requests, the decision should be backed up by reasonable business grounds such as cost or productivity considerations. The guidelines also set out what are deemed unreasonable grounds for rejecting requests.

The guidelines were launched on 15 April 2024 after the government accepted all the recommendations made by a tripartite workgroup, about eight months after it was convened to look into the issue of flexible work arrangements. Explaining the need for the guidelines, Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang pointed to Singapore’s tight labour market and ageing workforce, with more people taking on caregiver roles. Flexible work arrangements will allow more caregivers and seniors to continue to work if they wish to, she said at a launch event.

By 2030, around one in four Singaporeans will be aged 65 and above. Last year, the employment rate for seniors aged 65 and over was 30.6 per cent. Women’s involvement in the workforce increased to 76.6 per cent last year. But about 260,000 women of economic age remain outside the workforce. One of the main reasons for this is caregiving responsibilities, said Ms Yeo Wan Ling, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and director of U Women and Family and U SME.

The tripartite workgroup was co-chaired by Ms Gan, Ms Yeo and Mr Edwin Ng, honorary secretary of the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF). The workgroup consulted a range of stakeholders including companies, trade associations and unions. Community organisations that look at issues affecting women, fathers and senior citizens were also consulted.

Asked why the workgroup decided to introduce mandatory guidelines instead of legislation, Ms Gan said it had to take a “progressive” approach to flexible work arrangements. “We believe that in these next few years, it’s more important for us to focus on enabling and equipping workplaces and employers, as well the workers too, so that flexible work arrangements can be implemented in a sustainable way and in a win-win way,” she said. She also said that the guidelines had to be “administratively light” and feasible for companies to adopt, in order for them to be made mandatory for all employers. Asked what will happen if businesses do not comply with the guidelines, Ms Gan stressed that employers have to be “competitive” and “progressive” in order not to lose out on hiring talent. “Secondly, for employers that perhaps don’t comply with the guidelines in terms of having a process to evaluate the flexible arrangement request from their employees, TAFEP will come in to advise them and also educate them on what it means for them to follow the guidelines,” she said, referring to the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices. “By and large, I believe, employers in Singapore will know what to do. They will want to be good employers … for the interest of the business.”

In response to queries, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said that in cases where employers are recalcitrant or wilfully refuse to comply with the guidelines, the ministry may issue a warning and require them to attend corrective workshops.

The guidelines take effect on 1 December 2024 and apply to all employers as well as all employees who have passed probation. They are aimed at making it easier for employees to request flexible work arrangements, while “acknowledging that employers continue to have the prerogative to decide on work arrangements”, MOM said in a press release. They hence govern the process for requesting flexible work arrangements, but not the outcome of the request. This is similar to other countries that legislate the right to request flexible work arrangements, the tripartite workgroup said.

The guidelines define three types of flexible work arrangements:
• “Flexi-place” arrangements where employees can work from locations outside the office. This includes telecommuting and working from home.
• “Flexi-time” arrangements where employees can work at different timings with no changes to total work hours and workload. This includes staggered hours, flexible shifts and a compressed work schedule.
• “Flexi-load” arrangements where employees can take on different workloads with commensurate remuneration. This includes job sharing and part-time work.
The guidelines only cover formal requests for flexible work arrangements, which are long-term arrangements that require planning to ensure business continuity, the workgroup said. Informal requests, such as an ad hoc arrangement to come into work later on one day, are not covered. Existing formal and informal practices should continue if they work for employers and employees, the guidelines state. The guidelines set out the basic requirements for formal flexible work arrangement requests to be made and considered. Generally, there should be an understanding that employees make requests “responsibly”, considering the impact on their workload and performance as well as their team and clients.


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