Expand family care benefits to all: NTUC

SINGAPORE'S labour movement has issued four new guidelines for companies, encouraging them to offer family care benefits to all staff - whether they have young children, or old or ailing relatives.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) recommends that "supportive supervisors and co-workers" should be committed to developing all staff and helping them progress in their careers. These include those who have young families or who are on flexible work arrangements. It also wants the latter to be given greater scheduling freedom.

Family support schemes and facilities, such as childcare centres, should also be provided, along with access to family care leave schemes that give paid time off to staff who need to take care of dependants or elderly relatives.

Ms Toh Hwee Tin, director of the NTUC's family development unit U Family, unveiled the guidelines on Thursday and hopes at least half of its 1,500 unionised companies will adopt them by next year.

She recognised that government policies "have done well in looking after the needs of those with young children", but added: "We need to see that being expanded... so that (working caregivers) can return to work and stay in employment."

Ms Toh said only 15 per cent of its unionised companies have such measures in place. She added that companies can use them to gauge how family-friendly they are, but noted that getting more companies on board is "not easy", as there is a belief that employees could abuse the privileges or that they may be hard to implement.

However, she hopes employees will at least have the "right to request" for flexible work arrangements before leaving the discretion to employers. Ms Toh also hopes tripartite guidelines can be expanded to include working caregivers with dependants as well as just those with young children.

Mr Erman Tan, 49, president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute, said small and medium-sized enterprises may need help in the form of grants to ease into adopting such measures.

"These are all added costs so if it's implemented too suddenly, it could be difficult to manage, especially since SMEs are already struggling with other areas like manpower costs and high rent."

Consulting solutions firm Priority Consultants is one Singapore- based company allowing flexi- work arrangements. It has even invested in laptops and video conferencing technologies so staff can work from home.

"My staff had some difficulty adjusting as it was challenging having to work on group projects when people were not around," said managing director Kunalan C. Doraisingham. "But you can still get things done from home. It's not about being in the office but getting your job done."

In a U Family poll of more than 5,200 people done last November, about half of the working respondents said they felt happy in their workplace, were motivated and wanted to stay in their jobs.


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