Budget debate highlights key HR weaknesses

Topics in the second day of the debate included the need for firms to support working mothers and train workers on automation and technology

This year’s Budget debate continued into its second day with a number of key labour-related issues brought to the table.
Members of Parliament (MPs) discussed what the government should be doing to look after working mothers and protect workers from the threat of automation.
Help for working mums
Christopher de Souza, MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, suggested providing an additional eight weeks of unpaid leave of flexi-work arrangements for working mothers. Currently, 16 weeks of paid maternity leave is offered.
“As the labour force participation rate for women continues to increase every year, employers need to understand and appreciate the importance of adopting good workplace practices that help working mothers to balance family and work commitments,” he said.
His plan would also assist working mothers adjust to working life again, giving them extra time to balance both work and family commitments.
“Under this proposal, employers will not be financially disadvantaged as they would not have to pay them during the eight-week period of unpaid leave.”
Tin Pei Ling, MP for MacPherson SMC, added that female professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) all tended to hit obstacles in their careers.
“While [women] understand that the firms have to fairly reward others who inevitably have to step in to cover their duties during the downtime following births, the opportunity costs are considerable,” she said.
One way to assist was for employers to offer flexi-work arrangements to fathers and grandparents or allow fathers to share more of the mother’s maternity leave.
The rise of the machines
Faisal Manap, MP of Aljunied GRC, noted that while the push towards greater technological advancements was a good thing, more thought should be put towards the ultimate labour implications.
“The next question [to ask] is what is the impact on employment? Economists have different views on this – some say it will eliminate jobs but at the same time also create new jobs.”
Pointing to a study which claimed that automation costs jobs, he suggested an increase in SkillsFuture credit for affected workers so they could afford to reskill and avoid unemployment.
Zainal Sapari, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, also spoke about SkillsFuture, proposing that outreach efforts be customised to mature workers with lower academic qualifications. As well as training this demographic on how to properly use technology, they should also be matched with jobs already on the market.
“This can be achieved through job redesign in the clean, green and safe sectors,” he said.
“Increasingly, more service providers would like to adopt greater technology to reduce manpower [requirements] and improve productivity. Their workers are also being trained to operate [this] equipment but service buyers must be receptive to different ways of service providers delivering their service using technology.”
Zaqy Mohamad, MP of Chua Chu Kang GRC, extended the need for worker protection to PMEs, saying they could also be affected by the move towards automation. In fact, this group risked becoming irrelevant compared to “skilled” workers such as engineers and plumbers.
“For the educated group, we must also start looking at the depth of our skills developments, and focus on mastery in areas that are not so easily replaced by artificial intelligence and robots,” he said.
Related stories:
MPs talk retrenchment protection in Budget debate
Mandatory changes to paternity leave announced
How will Budget 2016 impact HR?

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