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S'pore companies to get more support for PMET job sharing, in bid to boost family-friendly flexi-work schemes

A RECENT promise to boost the WorkPro Work-Life Grant was fleshed out by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Josephine Teo on Sunday.

Funding amounts will be raised and a qualifying criterion relaxed, to support employers in adopting flexible work arrangements for their workers.

The grant, which was launched in 2013, was due to expire on March 31.

But Mrs Teo, who is also Second Minister for Manpower and for Home Affairs, told Parliament on March 1 that the scheme will be extended and enhanced.

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"These will make it easier for employers to implement practices that enhance family-friendliness," she said at the time.

The move to enhance the scheme will take effect on July 1, with the government setting aside S$30 million to be spent over two years, Mrs Teo has now told the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, at an International Women's Day event at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront hotel.

Flexible work arrangements include telecommuting, staggered hours, switching to part-time work and sharing jobs among workers.

Employers could get up to S$2,000 for each employee who is on a flexible work arrangement, for as many as 35 workers. It will be capped at S$70,000 over two years.

This is a larger sum than the present scheme, which pays out S$10,000 for the first five workers and S$1,500 for each employee thereafter.

There will also be a higher incentive - of up to S$3,500 an employee - for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) engaging in job sharing, compared with the S$2,000 cap on their rank-and-file counterparts.

This payout, for up to 10 PMET employees at a firm, is capped at at S$35,000 over two years.

Employers will be able to make claims only for full-time PMET employees who are on a permanent contract or an employment term of at least 12 months, and earning gross monthly wages of at least S$3,600.

The move comes as "we recognise that it is harder for employers to make arrangements for PMET jobs to be shared", said Mrs Teo.

She pointed, in her Mandarin-language address, to how companies may have to first split a PMET employee's workload into two and then ensure that there is a smooth handover between the colleagues involved.

The government will also scrap the requirement that at least one-fifth of a workplace be working flexibly for their employer to qualify for the grant.

Mrs Teo noted receiving feedback from companies about the difficulty of meeting this criterion.

Under the enhanced Work-Life Grant, an employer can receive funding with just one worker on flexi-work.

To get the grant, employers must have adopted the tripartite standard on flexible work arrangements. That standard has attracted more than 330 sign-ups since it was unveiled in 2017.

In her speech, Mrs Teo noted a lower labour force participation for middle-aged women.

The figure dropped from 89.6 per cent for women aged 25 to 29, as at mid-2017, to 78.9 per cent for those aged 40 to 44 and to 71.2 per cent for those aged 50 to 54, according to the Department of Statistics website.

"One reason could be because women exit the labour force to fulfil their childcare responsibilities, which still fall largely on women, and some feel compelled to stay home. There is therefore a pool of female talent that we can tap," she said.

Singapore's overall labour force participation rate for resident women was 59.8 per cent compared with 76 per cent for men.

Mrs Teo told her audience in Mandarin: "Occasionally, there are calls for the government to legislate long-term childcare leave such as those commonly seen in European countries, so that we can boost total fertility rate.

"However, most women in Singapore would actually prefer to remain in the workforce or to rejoin the workforce at the earliest opportunity."

As a result, she said, the government is investing in more pre-school places near homes and workplaces, for mothers to stay in the workforce.

She added that it is also important for companies to provide workers with flexible work arrangements, which "can be particularly helpful in keeping more women employed in a globalised environment".

"The government, together with our tripartite partners, will continue working towards making Singapore a great place for families, and to foster progressive and inclusive workplaces," Mrs Teo said.

"In doing so, we want to enable women to benefit from the expanded employment opportunities created by globalisation."