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Understanding bosses, hybrid work options can enable women to stay in workforce

There is greater scope for women - still the main caregivers in most homes - to join and remain in the workforce, with more employers now providing flexible work practices like working from home.

President Halimah Yacob, making this point on Tuesday, also said a lot more focus needs to be placed on retaining women in the workforce.

She added: "Once you've left the workforce, after years of being out of work, it is extremely difficult to try and retrain them and get them in tune with a workforce that has changed rapidly.

"So, we need to look at ways of how to help them remain in the workforce, and this is where flexible work practices are important."

People need to be able to continue being mothers and daughters, she said during a dialogue with NTUC Women's Committee Leaders at the Istana. The 29 women unionists joined her for the fifth such dialogue to discuss the well-being of workers and challenges they face.

Madam Halimah, who had spent 33 years of her career in the labour movement, said women leaders are critical in ensuring that grievances of female workers are heard, and inequalities are addressed.

She said this in response to a union leader who had brought up the need for equal workplace opportunities, regardless of gender, during the dialogue session.

"We need to change the mindset about how people look at men and women. For instance, caregiving roles and domestic work are still very much under the purview of women," she added.

The issue is something that has been talked about for years, and what needs to change is how society views gender roles, she said.

"That is where the rethinking must start. If you want women to have greater participation at work, some of these responsibilities at home must be shared."

Half of the labour movement's union members, or 298,000, are women.

Madam Halimah said: "With such strength in numbers, women unionists have a strong voice both at the workplace and in society to influence policies and decisions that affect women and Singapore as a whole."

Another union leader said caregiving is an issue that could affect working women.

Madam Halimah said caregiving should be a shared responsibility, and employers have an important role to play as well.

She encouraged employers to implement family care leave, which provides employees time off to care for loved ones, in workplaces. When more employers do so and it becomes a norm, then it would be easier to get it turned into a law that says every company must provide such leave, she added.

"The situation has changed tremendously. There are a lot more families under strain from caregiving - taking care of the frail and sick elderly."

Madam Halimah said caregiving is often viewed very generally, but all cases are different.

"Taking care of someone who is elderly with dementia is very different from taking care of a child with disabilities. Caregiving is not generic."

She said she hopes to see more understanding employers who are supportive of workers with caregiving responsibilities.

Assistant general secretary for Singapore Airlines Staff Union Sitalakshmi Karthigasu, who attended the dialogue, said caregiving is a challenge for many of her colleagues.

She said: "The issues we face as shift workers is managing family and work because we have young mothers, we have women taking care of elderly parents. If a child is sick and the mother cannot come to work, then someone else has to stay on and double up."

She said it has been a positive experience for caregivers among the staff, as her company has been supportive, and colleagues too.

"Both the company and our colleagues are understanding to family situations. If you need to go, then you can just go."

LABOUR ISSUESHalimah Yacobntuc