Filling the gaps in labour policies

In the last article, we saw where Singapore stands when compared and contrasted with several countries. But is it sufficient? What do these countries have that we don’t?

Many of these gaps are the result of a changing and modernising workforce, issues that are specific to an increase of PMEs (Professionals, Managers and Executives). It requires a fresh, multi party approach to understand these issues and develop unique solutions. This is where trade unions need to reinvent themselves and find ways to incorporate the views of PMEs in their policy making activities.

Here we explore the interesting labour welfare ideas from these nations.

  • Maternity and Paternal Leave

Norway makes the duration of leave for both maternal and paternal leaves the same. The reason for this is so that employers are unable to discriminate women and also makes fathers spend much needed time at home to give the wife support.

There is also the practice of giving extremely long maternal leaves, up to a year (although this may not be paid). In Singapore, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) had in 2012 proposed extending the current 4-month maternity leave to 6 months of paid leave, with an option for another 6 months’ unpaid leave. This was rejected by the employees themselves – many worry about not being able to return to the job later on. There is still opportunity to revive this idea, the goal is to assure women that their jobs will still be there when they return.

  • Approach to medical leave

In the United Kingdom, there is an unwritten practice of calling in sick without the need of a medical certificate. A doctor’s verification is needed only when you fall ill for more than 4 days. In Australia, you can take leave for stress and many countries are starting to recognise mental health as grounds for medical leave.

This would work very well in Singapore – many a times, we are not ill enough to go to the doctor. Modern work puts a lot of pressure on the mind and the effects can manifest in violent ways. Further more, if a boss cannot trust his employee without the need of an MC, there is much more to worry about than malingering.

  • Equality

In many matured societies, there are laws to prevent discrimination. An employee (or potential employee) cannot be discriminated for attributes he/she cannot control. People must be selected based only for skill and job specific reasons, any deviation is cause for prosecution. Although one might argue that it is better to see that society is ready first before implementing the law, we do not agree. The law must come first and the education later.

The chewing gum ban did not start by “waiting for society to adapt”, it was ban first, talk later.

  • Carer’s leave

We all have someone to care for. In Australia, an employee can take paid carer’s leave to care for or support a member of their immediate family or household who is sick, injured or has an unexpected emergency.

  • Work Place Flexibility 

In the United Kingdom and Australia, an employee has the right to ask for flexible work arrangements. If there are circumstances that require the presence of an employee at home, he/she must be able to request for this and the company cannot unreasonably refuse.

  • Companies shall not hinder an employee from upgrading

In Thailand, a company cannot disallow a young worker to study. In the United Kingdom, companies must provide time-off for skills development and upgrading. Singaporean companies would do well to align with this spirit. Many employers would not mind if their staff improves themselves for the work that they do, but what about learning skills that have nothing to do with the company? It is not known whether or not this practice is encouraged and perhaps some data would be required at this point.

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