Getting employees to report to the workplace even though they can perform their work from home? Or are your safe distancing markers a bit vague in areas where employees might gather? If so, you could be guilty of breaching safe management measures (SMM).

Responding to a query from Human Resources Online, a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) spokesperson shared that the two most common violations of SMM since they were implemented were:

  1. Companies having employees reporting to the workplace despite them being able to perform their work from home.
  2. Failing to put clear safe distancing markers at areas in the workplace where employees might gather.

On the bright side, the spokesperson said: "The vast majority of companies have been compliant with SMM since they were implemented post-circuit breaker."

That said, 42 employers were fined after inspections were conducted on 5,380 workplaces between 28 September 2020 and 15 January 2021. 

On that note, the MOM spokesperson said: "MOM will heighten the extent of SMM inspections, and continue to publicise learning points from our checks."

The spokesperson added that in anticipation of increased activities in the transport and storage sector due to the festive period, the MOM launched an operation targeting SMM enforcement in the sector.

Josephine Teo: Further enhancements to leave provisions will require careful consideration

In a written answer on the back of yesterday's parliamentary sitting, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said that further enhancements to leave provisions require careful consideration. 

This was in response to a question posed by MP Louis Ng Kok Kwang, on whether the Ministry has studied the effects of introducing gender-neutral fertility leave on the employability of individuals. If so, what are the results of the study; and if not, whether the ministry intends to undertake such a study.

Thanking Ng for the suggestion, the Manpower Minister said that this will be considered along with other meaningful studies that can be undertaken as well as resources available. 

She said: "Further enhancements to leave provisions require careful consideration. The Government has consistently taken a tripartite approach, taking on board the views and concern of employers, unions, and other stakeholders. In this period of heightened uncertainty in the economy and job market, we must also assess the overall impact of concurrent policy moves on employers and employability."

She noted that feedback gathered through public consultations on caregiving support showed that flexible work arrangements (FWAs) were more sustainable than leave provisions to help individuals meet their work and caregiving commitments.

In line with that, the tripartite partners have continuously reviewed and enhanced its efforts to support the provision of FWAs.

Teo said: "Today, the vast majority of employees, including caregivers, have access to FWAs. In 2019, about 85% of employers offered some form of FWA. This has increased further during the COVID-19 period.

"We are doing more to entrench FWAs such as by implementing the recommendations of the Citizens’ Panel on Work-Life Harmony. These include growing a community of Work-Life Ambassadors who will advocate for FWAs and developing sector-specific Communities of Practice that will promote best practices for employers to implement FWAs."

Over the years, the Singapore Government has progressively enhanced leave provisions.

In 2013, parents with children aged seven to 12 years old got an additional two days of childcare leave per year.

In 2017, the second week of paternity leave was legislated, shared parental leave was increased to four weeks, and adoption leave for mothers was increased to 12 weeks.

"More recently, we worked with tripartite partners to introduce the Tripartite Standards on Unpaid Leave for Unexpected Care Needs, which encourages employers to allow employees up to six weeks of unpaid leave to support their unexpected caregiving needs. The Government has led by example to adopt this set of Standards across the public sector," she said.

MOM mindful of imposing sanctions on employers without lactation rooms

In a separate written answer in line with yesterday's parliamentary sitting, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said that the Government is mindful that imposing sanctions on employers that require nursing mothers to return physically to workplaces without lactation rooms may have unintended consequences. 

This was said in response to questions from MP Rachel Ong about: 

  • Whether sanctions can be imposed on companies that require nursing mothers to return to the office without provision of appropriate lactation rooms;
  • Whether the WLG supports the set-up of lactation rooms;
  • What specific measures will the Ministry take to support the implementation of FWAs for nursing mothers; and
  • Whether the Work-Life Grant (WLG) application deadline that closed on 18 August 2020 will be re-opened with modifications to the kind of FWAs that it will support.

Firstly, the minister emphasised: "The Government recognises the importance of supporting nursing mothers who work. First, we support employers to offer Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) to help all workers, including nursing mothers, better manage their work and family needs. Second, we require and support building owners to provide lactation rooms for the benefit of nursing mothers who have to be at their workplaces."

On the topic of sanctions, the minister noted that the Building and Construction Authority’s (BCA) Code on Accessibility requires specific building types that are frequented by the general public to have at least one lactation room. This applies to both new, as well as existing buildings undergoing addition and alteration works that need BCA’s approval. 

Recently, the Code was also enhanced to require even more building types to provide lactation rooms.

While the WLG does not support the set-up of lactation rooms, to help building owners of eligible private buildings constructed before these requirements were in place to comply with these regulations, BCA’s Accessibility Fund provides funding support for building owners to construct lactation rooms. 

That said, the Government is mindful that imposing sanctions on employers that require nursing mothers to return physically to workplaces without lactation rooms may have unintended consequences.

"For example, employers may have reservations about employing nursing mothers, or women in general, if they are unable to provide a lactation room due to genuine space constraints at the workplace," Teo said.

On the topic of the measures the Ministry will take to support the implementation of FWAs for nursing mothers, she said: "We support employers to offer Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) to help all workers, including nursing mothers, better manage their work and family needs."

"FWAs such as flexi-time and work-from-home arrangements enable all workers, including nursing mothers, to meet both their personal and professional goals," she added.

Hence, together with the Tripartite Alliance on Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP), the Ministry of Manpower and our tripartite partners promote the adoption of FWAs by:

  • Recognising progressive employers through the Tripartite Standard on FWAs,
  • Developing and sharing an FWA implementation guide and videos, 
  • Raising awareness of FWAs through engagements and advertisements.

The minister also shared that in 2019, about 85% of employers offered some form of FWA. These numbers have since increased further over the past year with work-from-home remaining as the default mode of working.

With regards to the WLG application, Teo noted that as the provision of FWAs is increasingly normalised and made prevalent at workplaces, there is no need to reopen the Work-Life Grant for now.

"We are implementing recommendations by the Citizens’ Panel on Work-Life Harmony. These measures will further enhance the provision and take-up of FWAs," she added.

Finally, she confirmed that together with tripartite partners, MOM will continue to advocate for the implementation of FWAs to support all workers, including nursing mothers.

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