Member of Parliament (MP) for Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng has always been known for speaking up on social causes, such as allowing cats in HDB flats and prohibiting smoking near windows and balconies in residential areas.
In his speech during the Debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President on Wednesday (April 19), Louis Ng brought the House’s attention to some “heartware” matters.
One of these was to legislate work-from-home arrangements.
Acknowledging the government’s current efforts with the Tripartite Standard on Work-Life Harmony and the Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangements, Louis Ng said that these are “undoubtedly good steps forward”, but are “far from enough.”
Louis Ng cited how the pandemic has proven that working from home is possible and how its implementation has reaped benefits for the nation.
He then brought up an anecdote about a mother who shared with him that the flexibility to work from home has been “crucial,” providing her the flexibility of sending her daughter to school.
“I genuinely believe work from home enables a happier society and will facilitate Singapore’s move towards being the sort of family-oriented, health-conscious society we want to be,” said Louis Ng.
He also questioned why the government did not ride on the momentum from the pandemic when it comes to WFH policies but is instead taking a step backwards by only introducing guidelines on flexible work arrangements.
“Guidelines send a weak signal,” he stated.
“I’m not asking that we make work from home compulsory. My first suggestion is that we legislate the right to work from home and give people the choice.
“Employers can still require employees to be in the office for specific business-related reasons.”
In January 2022, Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang said that the ministry should not “rush” into such legislation, lest it “creates workplace rigidity and impede [Singapore’s] economic recovery”.
“As we look at other countries that have introduced legislation to allow employees to request to work from home… the outcomes are actually rather mixed on whether this legislation makes a substantial improvement in work-life, and also the flexibility that employees have,” she said then.
More annual leave
Ng also called for the government to increase the minimum number of annual leave days from the current seven, which he described as “extremely low”.
He compared Singapore’s minimum to that of other countries, such as Malaysia, Bangladesh, Japan, Myanmar and South Korea.
“Many of these countries don’t only have more days of annual leave; they also have a higher number of paid public holidays.”
He continued: “I do understand that we need to balance this carefully against what businesses can sustain, but we have an overworked workforce and we need to sustain our workforce too.”
End discrimination against breastfeeding mums
Giving Singaporeans more time aside, Ng also called to end the discrimination against breastfeeding mothers — saying that the proposed workplace discrimination legislation should also protect these mothers.
Ng made reference to the Adjournment Motion for breastfeeding mothers he brought up previously, recounting the “shame and discrimination” that these mothers face at work.
He shared the story of a nurse who recently returned to work and was told by her managers to “pump in the toilet”.
“When she mentioned that it’s not hygienic or sanitary, she was shocked to have them reply saying that other mums have been pumping in the toilet ‘all [this] while'”.
Recounting how the woman was “appalled by the lack of empathy, understanding and even the sense of basic hygiene”, Ng urged the House to provide more help and support for these new mothers.
A more caring and compassionate society
Ending off his speech, Ng revisited a line from his speech for the Motion of Thanks in 2020: “I will continue to fight for a more caring, compassionate and inclusive society, a society with a strong hardware”.
“This fight continues and continues for so many other causes, for our migrant workers, refugees, climate change, animal welfare and no I didn’t forget, secondhand smoke and cats in HDB flats.
“I will continue to speak up because ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter'”.