All employers in Singapore must fairly consider flexi-work requests from Dec 1 under new rules, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

All employers in Singapore must fairly consider flexi-work requests from Dec 1 under new rules

All employers in Singapore must fairly consider formal requests from employees for flexible work arrangements (FWAs) from Dec 1, 2024, under the new Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangements.

The compulsory guidelines were unveiled on April 15 during a company visit to the Ridout Tea Garden outlet of fast-food chain McDonald’s attended by the three co-chairs of the tripartite workgroup that had worked on them since September 2023.

The co-chairs are Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang; Singapore National Employers Federation honorary secretary Edwin Ng; and Ms Yeo Wan Ling, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

The rules will cover formal requests for FWAs, and the processes to submit and evaluate these, but not govern the outcome, the workgroup told reporters at a briefing held earlier in April.

The workgroup said this approach is in line with laws elsewhere, in countries such as the UK and Australia.

The rules also adopt a broad definition of FWAs beyond the flexi-place arrangements, such as remote or hybrid working, popularised by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Instead, the workgroup aims to sensitise employers, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises with less advanced human resource processes, to consider flexi-time and flexi-load arrangements too.

Examples of such arrangements include staggered work hours, part-time work or job sharing.

“It must be the employers’ prerogative to decide if (an) FWA for a particular job is viable from a business point of view. That is a key principle that all tripartite partners subscribe to,” the workgroup said at a briefing on April 4.

It added that the administrative burden is kept light to ensure all firms can comply.

The guidelines will apply to all employees who have served their probation and only cover formal requests.

On the difference between formal and non-formal requests, the workgroup said formal requests often take the form of structured, recurring arrangements that entail some change in work processes.

Meanwhile, non-formal requests for FWAs do not fall under these guidelines, but they should be allowed to be raised, and approved or rejected, so long as there is a consensus.

Elaborating, the workgroup said: “If you look at existing practices, you will find that, especially when it’s very ad hoc, an employee may go to his supervisors (to ask) ‘Can I come in a bit later today, because I need to just settle some things for my children or for my mother?’, and it works.

“What we don’t want to do is to then artificially add on a cumbersome as well as heavy administrative process, and so the formal arrangement is if the employee wants something a little bit more long-term.”

The guidelines stipulate that the process to submit a formal request, and how the request will be handled, should be clearly outlined to workers.

On their part, employees ought to make their formal FWA requests in writing, and follow requirements that employers stipulate.

If no requirements were stipulated, the guidelines urge employees to mention the date of request, type of FWA, duration, reason and the start and end dates in their formal request by default.

Employers have to reply to the request within two months from the date the request was made, and they are encouraged to discuss alternative arrangements if the one sought is not feasible.

The reason for the rejection must be given, and the workgroup said the reasons should generally be business-related, such as cost or feasibility.

Employers should not reject requests based on reasons not directly linked to business outcomes, like not believing in FWAs.

Where possible, employees are strongly encouraged to discuss and resolve disagreements on FWAs with their employers through the firm’s internal grievance-handling mechanism.

Unionised employees should also approach their unions for advice on formal or non-formal FWA requests.

Employees whose employers did not adhere to the guidelines can approach the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) for assistance on formal FWA requests.

The workgroup said Tafep will engage the employers and advise them to comply with the guidelines.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said the guidelines set out best practices in developing trust and mutual understanding between employers and employees.

It added: “This is a more effective approach in developing strong workplace norms around FWAs, compared with a punitive one.

“In cases where employers are recalcitrant and/or wilfully refuse to comply with the (guidelines), MOM may issue a warning and require them to attend corrective workshops.”

FLEXIBLE WORK ARRANGEMENTSMinistry of ManpowerGan Siow Huangntucemployers