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In Parliament: Labour MPs suggest ways to improve workplace mental health

The right to disconnect and national-level support for freelancers and vulnerable work groups were among the recommendations raised at the Parliamentary sessions between 6 and 7 February 2024.
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Labour Members of Parliament (MP) called for more to be done to help mentally stressed Singapore workers in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world.

 

NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Melvin Yong, NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Yeo Wan Ling, and NTUC Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit Director Jean See spoke in support of the Advancing Mental Health Motion in Parliament between 6 and 7 February 2024. 

 

Empowering all workers

 

Mr Yong, a longstanding advocate of workplace safety and health, reiterated his call for more to be done to give workers the right to disconnect to prevent workplace burnout.

 

While lauding the various efforts of unionised companies and the government sector in paving the way with best practices to promote this effort, he suggested that ‘right to disconnect’ principles be built into the existing Tripartite Advisory on Mental Well-being at Workplaces to move the needle in this area.

 

In response, Minister of State for Manpower and Education Gan Siow Huang pointed out that the refreshed tripartite advisory has guidelines on implementing such an initiative.

 

“We will continue to work with the tripartite partners, including NTUC, to raise awareness of the importance of setting after-hours work communication policy while managing employees’ and business needs,” she said.

 

Ms Gan added that the tripartite partners also promote greater adoption of work-life harmony measures, including health and wellness programmes and unrecorded time off for personal and family matters.

 

To help workers remain productive, the Mr Yong recommended that employers consider having mental health ambassadors, like union leaders, to support workers’ mental health needs.

 

“Union leaders can play this important role of mental health ambassadors. To date, NTUC has trained over 1,700 union leaders in WSH, and the Labour Movement stands ready to partner with our tripartite partners in training and deploying mental health ambassadors at all workplaces,” said Mr Yong.

 

He also urged youths to take up Young NTUC and NTUC LearningHub’s WSQ-certified Peer-to-Peer Mental Well-Being Support programme to support distressed peers and colleagues at the workplace.

 

Mr Yong also highlighted that layoffs can be stressful for affected workers and those remaining in the company. He urged companies to make retrenchment the last resort and engage their unions early should it become inevitable. He hopes that tripartite partners can work with NTUC to practice responsible retrenchment.

 

To help workers stay mentally fit in the face of mental stressors like retrenchments, heavy workloads, and the inability to disconnect after work, Mr Yong urged employers to adopt the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) services in a more widespread manner and reassure employees that their personnel records would not be affected.

 

He also called on the Government to subsidise the services under the EAP and make mental healthcare more affordable. Mr Yong also suggested increasing the mental health industry’s capacity and cutting appointment waiting time.

 

In response, Ms Gan shared that the refreshed tripartite advisory contains EAP service providers with subsidised rates and details like indicative prices and specialisation areas.

 

Enabling freelancers and the self-employed

 

Focusing on the unique plight of freelancers and self-employed workers, Ms See suggested three approaches to enhance their mental health and well-being. 

 

Firstly, the Nominated MP hopes that the upcoming legislation to protect platform workers involves a tripartite effort by the Government, platform worker associations and platform operators to enhance their mental health and well-being.

 

“To platform workers, a sustainable livelihood means knowing that for the same amount of work done, they will receive consistent, transparent, and fair compensation and not inconsistent and fluctuating amounts, whilst improved well-being means giving platform workers the assurance that platform operators’ pursuit of profit and returns to shareholders are not at the expense of platform workers’ health and safety,” she elaborated.

 

Secondly, Ms See called for a national-level commitment to build an inclusive, enlightened, and supportive ecosystem to support freelancers with caregiving responsibilities who may require more help.

 

“Freelancers who are caregivers should be uplifted and supported with the same degree of accommodation and care as what we seek for employees with caregiving responsibilities,” she said.

 

Responding to the call, Ms Gan shared that freelancers and employees can look forward to the new National Mental Health Hotline and Text Service starting in 2025. Meanwhile, they can access free online services like Belle the helpbot and Mindline.sg. 

 

Ms See called for service buyers and platform operators to give freelancers more leeway for service delivery and incentives if they need to respond to urgent needs. Ms See also urged care facilities like hospitals to empathise and understand these workers’ needs more.

 

Thirdly, Ms See urged the Government to partner with entities like the National Instructors and Coaches Association to provide targeted and sustained funding support to help mature freelancers leverage digital technologies to improve productivity and develop their businesses.

 

Caring for caregivers

 

Ms Yeo called for more jobs with flexible work arrangements in the heartlands to give working caregivers better mental health due to better work-life balance. 

 

“Can more be done by our local merchants on local job creation? Can we encourage and equip our heartland merchants to embrace flexible work arrangements, especially with the upcoming Tripartite Guidelines for Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA) Requests? 

 

“How about our local CDCs [Community Development Councils] promoting local job creation and FWA with the heartland merchant networks they have created so successfully with the CDC Voucher Programmes?” she said.

 

In response, Ms Gan urged employers and employees, including caregivers, to discuss suitable FWA to fulfil business and caregiving needs.

 

“Supportive companies that demonstrate exemplary mental well-being practices can be recognised through the annual WSH CARE [Culture of Acceptance, Respect and Empathy] Award,” she added.

 

The Pasir Ris-Punggol MP also asked for training support to strengthen the local support network for caregivers with special needs dependents in the community. 

 

“We hope to scale our local training, as we believe more volunteers and the community at large would benefit from such training and awareness,” she said.