Civil servants get 1 day off to volunteer at charities

From next year, all civil servants can take one day of leave every year to volunteer in a registered charity of their choice. This is on top of the annual leave of this group of 82,000 officers.

The public service will also adopt at least 50 charities next year.

A senior officer in each ministry will be appointed to champion and facilitate volunteerism among employees in the ministry and its statutory boards.

These moves, coming in Singapore's Jubilee year, seek to signal the commitment of the country's largest employer to building a culture of volunteering and caring.

"A culture of volunteerism is essential for fostering a caring and cohesive society in Singapore," said the head of the civil service, Mr Peter Ong, yesterday at the opening of a three-day exhibition on the public service's past and future, held at the Suntec Convention and Exhibition Centre Hall.

Speaking at its opening, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, the minister in charge of the civil service, reiterated the need for the public service to be caring, coordinated and connected. "Beyond daily work, the public service will encourage a culture of volunteerism and caring among our public officers."

The civil servants, however, have to use their one-day leave to volunteer at an Institution of a Public Character, which is a charity held to a higher standard.The leave is part of their unrecorded leave, which is capped at 14 days a year and typically used for approved reasons such as parental care and marriage.

Mr Teo also said a well-coordinated public service, where ministries and agencies work closely with one another, is needed to develop and deliver policies well.

The public service needs to stay connected with Singaporeans as well, so that it can better understand their concerns and work with them, he added, noting that citizens increasingly want "to play a more active role in shaping our community and national policies".

Mr Teo also launched a two-volume book set, Heart Of Public Service, featuring 50 officers who have been part of key milestones in Singapore's history. More than 300 public officers and agencies also received from him awards for excellent service and innovation.

Civil servant Mok Yee Soon, 28, who volunteers with Lion Befrienders, said: "It gives me more opportunities to volunteer based on the charity's needs."

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin lauded the move, saying on Facebook the Government should walk the talk.

Charity Council chairman Gerard Ee said it would encourage many who do not ordinarily volunteer to give it a go. "It could also lead to private-sector workers asking their bosses: 'Why don't we have this too? After all, one day is not a lot.'"

Some small firms, however, may find it a burden to give an extra day of leave, noted Mr Victor Tay, vice-chair of United Nations Global Compact, which champions corporate social responsibility.

"Businesses know they need to be good corporate citizens to succeed, but volunteering is still very much on a voluntary basis."

This article was first published on October 16, 2015.
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