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New Tripartite Guidelines give workers the right to request flexible work arrangements

The mandatory guidelines also govern how employers should assess the requests.
Model ID: 89a25744-78fd-44de-aad9-60bd49ce58bb Sitecore Context Id: 89a25744-78fd-44de-aad9-60bd49ce58bb;
By Nicolette Yeo 16 Apr 2024
Model ID: 89a25744-78fd-44de-aad9-60bd49ce58bb Sitecore Context Id: 89a25744-78fd-44de-aad9-60bd49ce58bb;


Rumiyati Razali (pictured above), a Guest Experience Leader at McDonald’s Bukit Batok West outlet, enjoys the flexibility of choosing the shift she wants to take care of her family and pursue her interests.


“When I took a SkillsFuture Diploma course for 10 months, my restaurant manager let me work in the morning so I could attend my online classes.


“With this flexible arrangement, I can also spend more time with my family and child,” said the mother-of-one.


Workers like Rumiyati who want a flexible work arrangement (FWA) to better manage their personal commitments will soon be able to request it formally.


The Government accepted on 15 April 2024 all ten recommendations by the Tripartite Workgroup on the Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangement Requests.


The mandatory guidelines set out how employees should request and use FWAs and how employers and supervisors should handle FWA requests. It will take effect on 1 December 2024,


Tripartite Workgroup members and other stakeholders attended the launch at McDonald’s Ridout Tea Garden outlet.


About the guidelines


The guidelines apply to all firms and employees who have completed probation.


It aims to normalise FWAs to a stage where employees feel comfortable requesting them, and employers can evaluate requests and work out arrangements that meet mutual needs.


More than work-from-home, FWAs include flexi-time and flexi-load arrangements like staggered hours and part-time work.


Like similar legislation in other countries, the guidelines will govern the process for requesting FWAs, not the outcome.


Additionally, it will only cover formal FWA requests. Where possible, an informal FWA request process should continue.


“Access to flexible work arrangements is often the main consideration for caregivers, women workers, and senior workers when it comes to deciding to stay or return to the workforce.


“The Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangement Requests is a milestone enhancement to the normalisation of FWAs in the workplace, as it puts in place formalised and clear processes for workers to request flexible work arrangements.


“At the heart of successful FWA implementation is the building of a trust culture in the workplace. NTUC and our union leaders will continue working with our tripartite partners to bring win-win outcomes for our employers and workers,” said Tripartite Workgroup Co-Chair Yeo Wan Ling. She is also NTUC Assistant Secretary-General and NTUC U Women and Family (U WAF) Director.


The guidelines will replace the existing Tripartite Advisory and Tripartite Standard on FWAs.


The request process


Employers should state the request process upfront and how it will be handled.


Employees must make the requests in writing, including pertinent information and stipulated requirements for the employer to assess.


If there are no requirements, employees can make a formal request in writing, indicating the date of request, the type of FWA requested, the reason for the request, and the start/end date (if relevant).


Employers are advised to communicate key information to guide employees on their suitability. These can include available types, reasons why such arrangements are unsuitable for certain job roles, examples of why requests might be rejected, and usage expectations.


Before they make any requests, unionised employees are advised to approach their unions.


The assessment process


Once the employee makes a request, employers must provide a written decision within two months.


Employers who decline the request should provide a business-related reason for the rejection. They can consult the permitted list in the guidelines, which includes cost, negative impact on productivity or output, and feasibility and practicality.


The non-exhaustive list gives firms leeway to add other reasons to meet sector/firm-specific requirements.


Employers should not give invalid reasons, such as management's lack of belief in FWA or the supervisor's disagreement with the employee’s reason for the request.


Should the original request be denied, employers are advised to discuss alternative arrangements with the employee.


Resources and support


The Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) and the Institute for Human Resource Professionals (IHRP) will progressively roll out training and resources from May 2024 to equip firms for FWA implementation.


Capability-building efforts include providing self-help and training resources to support compliance with the guidelines and strengthening training on critical FWA implementation skills.


Other resources for employers and employees include general support, such as checklists and videos, and targeted training and resources for specific stakeholders, such as management and supervisors.


Additionally, employees and employers are encouraged to agree on FWAs mutually. Any disagreements should be resolved through the firm’s internal grievance-handling procedure.


Employees can approach TAFEP or the unions for assistance if employers do not adhere to the guidelines.


NTUC U WAF Head Delia Chan highlighted that companies can turn to NTUC’s Company Training Committee (CTC) Grant for funding support to redesign jobs and processes.


Delia also suggested that employers consider creative ways of implementing FWA. For example, NTUC and cleaning firm Chye Thiam Maintenance teamed up to develop the C U Back at Work programme for women returners. It allows workers to pick the time and the number of hours they wish to work to suit their needs.


Employers’ views


Companies NTUC spoke to welcomed the new guidelines for supporting their employees’ work and personal commitments.


Radha Exports’ Chief Executive Officer Anandani Deepak Partab said that FWAs have been practised informally at the company. With the introduction of the guidelines, he plans to formalise their FWA request process to ensure proper follow-up.


Mr Deepak believes that FWAs ultimately build a more resilient organisation.


“Sometimes, people really need that flexibility, so a big benefit [of FWAs] is a happier team.


“At the end of the day, when they come back [to work], their productivity shoots up, and they know they’ve got to deliver,” he said.


Employees can choose flexi-load, flexi-place, or flexi-time arrangements at McDonald's.


“These guidelines will provide a framework of how this can be implemented in companies and also for the employees to have a clearer picture of how they can benefit from this,” said the fast-food chain’s Business Consultant Christopher Xu, who manages six restaurants.


He added that workers on FWAs put in more effort, are more alert and have higher productivity.


Click here for more information on the CTC Grant.