Singapore’s rapidly ageing population is taking a toll on its workers, particularly those with caregiving needs.
With more family members requiring regular care amidst a shrinking workforce and family sizes, the increased caregiving load will likely fall on workers, especially women.
Against this backdrop, NTUC called on 20 September 2023 for employers and the Government to ramp up caregiving support to workers.
NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng made this call at an event with over 25 caregivers at NTUC Health’s Taman Jurong Active Ageing Centre.
“Our population is rapidly ageing. More of our workers will face mounting caregiving responsibilities. Workers need to be assured that they can fulfil both their work and caregiving responsibilities.
“NTUC is committed to championing the needs of caregivers and calls on everyone to play their part to build an ecosystem to support caregivers,” he said.
Mr Ng and Ms Yeo participated in the breakout sessions to hear caregivers share their experiences and learning points with fellow caregivers.
A recent survey NTUC conducted with 1,000 respondents revealed that workers are adversely affected by their caregiving commitments.
Many were forced to take some form of time off from work. More than half of the respondents (52 per cent) take time off, and over 40 per cent take no-pay leave or take leave frequently.
In terms of welfare and performance, over 30 per cent of respondents experienced difficulties in concentrating, less co-worker engagement and decreased productivity. Additionally, about 20 per cent cited tensions or problems with co-workers and supervisors, feelings of isolation and reduced confidence in their work ability.
When it came to career prospects, the survey reported that over 10 per cent turned down promotions or opportunities for career progression and received warnings about their performance or attendance.
In the survey, caregivers also highlighted the kind of support they needed the most. The majority preferred flexible work arrangements or FWA (85 per cent), followed by paid leave for caregiving (64 per cent) and financial support such as medical/healthcare insurance or subsidies (57 per cent).
1. More FWA to manage unique caregiving responsibilities
NTUC called on employers to ensure that FWA policies are flexible enough to cater to different caregivers.
For instance, employers could consider redesigning jobs to break up tasks and allow workers to complete certain tasks remotely.
Mr Ng also encouraged employers to advertise the types of FWA available on job postings to allow jobseekers to filter what they need.
NTUC added that workers and employers alike can look forward to the upcoming Tripartite Guidelines on FWA. It will guide employers in offering FWA to ensure business needs are met and make it acceptable and easier for workers to request FWA.
The guidelines are expected to be launched in 2024.
2. More support to care for elderly family members
As there is currently no statutory leave to care for elderly, ill or disabled family members, NTUC proposed that workers be given paid caregiving leave and unpaid leave for unexpected care needs to better care for their loved ones.
Such leave should be flexible enough to cover chronic illnesses and physical and mental health conditions. They should also be extended to include loved ones related by blood, marriage or adoption.
NTUC also urged employers to review employee support schemes to further help workers manage elderly caregiving responsibilities.
For instance, employers can extend medical and insurance coverage to workers’ elderly family members. Such schemes can help employers retain talent while helping employees manage work and caregiving responsibilities.
NTUC also called for improving the accessibility and affordability of eldercare services. Anxieties remain on the ground despite existing efforts to lighten workers’ financial and other caregiving loads.
Mr Ng emphasised: “If we can push and scale flexible work arrangements, I think many caregivers would appreciate it. It can be through job redesign; it can be through flexible work arrangements.
“In our conversations with workers, we heard many requests for some form of paid leave or including maybe unpaid leave. [This is] so that workers have the assurance that when unforeseen circumstances happen to their parents [like] going to hospital, accidents at home, they can immediately take the leave to take care of them.
“We hope that more employers can come onboard these leave schemes, so that together with NTUC, [we can] scale beyond the 30 per cent or so companies that voluntarily put into practice caregiving arrangements.
“In time, we hope that the Government will also move this space together with NTUC to care for the workers.”
Labour Members of Parliament (LMPs) also called for stronger support for working parents and caregivers during the Child Development Co-Savings (Amendment) Bill debate at the parliament sitting on 18 September 2023.
LMPs felt that more could be done to help workers with existing caregiving responsibilities or those looking to start their own families.
One caregiver who would have greatly benefited from FWA is 58-year-old Pauline Tan.
She had to quit her high-paying job in an automotive company in 2018 to care for her mother, 96, when she was diagnosed with dementia. Pauline’s job at that time required her to be in office.
“I quit my job to be a full-time caregiver because there were no flexible working arrangements. If there was a work-from-home scheme I could tap on, I wouldn’t need to quit my job,” she shared.
Pauline will also be able to benefit from statutory paid caregiving leave as it would enable her to rejoin the workforce.
“If the employer is able to give caregiver leave, I would gladly want to go back to the workforce because now, I’m tapping on my savings to keep to all these daily expenses.
“Financially, it has been quite a stretch for me. I will also be getting older, and will need some savings for my retirement,” she said.