Four-day work week would help workers live fuller lives, says Singapore MP Louis Chua

Member of Parliament Louis Chua said that the pandemic has pushed companies to rapidly adopt new behaviours that would stick and change the trajectory of what it means to work. — TODAY pic
Member of Parliament Louis Chua said that the pandemic has pushed companies to rapidly adopt new behaviours that would stick and change the trajectory of what it means to work. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, July 28 — Workers’ Party Member of Parliament Louis Chua has called for a four-day work week in light of how Covid-19 has led to a “seismic shift in the workforce culture”.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday during the debate on government support measures for the first two heightened alert phases that began in May, Chua noted that the pandemic has pushed companies to “rapidly adopt new behaviours that would stick and change the trajectory of what it means to work”.

He said that, for instance, companies that are known to be averse to flexible work arrangements are now open to the idea of their employees working remotely.

He cited a report by management consulting firm McKinsey, which showed that 20 per cent to 25 per cent of the workforce in advanced economies could work from home between three and five days a week.

“This represents four to five times more remote work than before the pandemic. While this study was conducted on a global level, it is evident that there has been a seismic shift in the workforce culture,” Chua said.

The idea of a shorter work week, which is not a new concept, has resurfaced over the past year, he noted.

Chua also recalled that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said during the 2004 National Day Rally that there was a need for a better work-life balance.

“I am not sure why, but hours have become longer, the pace is more intense. Maybe it’s the internet, maybe it’s email, maybe it’s globalisation, but whatever it is, you wake up at six o’clock in the morning, you check your email,” Chua quoted PM Lee as saying.

“Eleven o’clock at night, before you go to sleep, you check it again and next morning, you come back, somebody replied at 2am. How to have children?”

PM Lee was speaking then when announcing the move by the civil service to adopt a five-day week.

Yesterday, Chua told the House: “While (it is) not the only reason for our low birth rates, the ‘five-day work week’ has gone beyond its intended definition and consumed our daily lives.”

He then said that the four-day work week has already been tried and tested by companies and countries worldwide.

He gave the example of Microsoft Japan, which saw a 40 per cent increase in productivity and an overall 94 per cent employee satisfaction rate.

“Iceland’s four-day work week trials were also deemed an overwhelming success with trials in Spain also underway.

“That being said, I am conscious of the fact that not every employee has the privilege to complete their tasks in a four-day work week. Those who deal with external parties, especially, are subjected to the whims and fancy of their clients’ schedule,” Chua said.

A shorter work week not only increases productivity but, more importantly, would allow workers to become “fuller” people outside of their jobs, he added.

In the case of Microsoft, it encouraged employees to use the free time for self-development and learning, for personal life and family care, social participation and community contribution, among other things.

“If we adopt a shorter work week with the right mindset, the benefits of better mental health, productivity and agency felt on the individual level will translate to society-wide benefits as well,” he said.

Chua filed a parliamentary question on Monday, on whether the Government has undertaken a study on shorter work weeks and if it can consider a limited trial of a four-day work week in Singapore.

In a written reply, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said that any employer wishing to pilot a four-day work week with their employees may do so, because “there is no legal impediment to implementing such a scheme”.

He added that the Government has noted reports of such small-scale pilots in some countries and their initial results.

“Given the current economic situation in Singapore, the ministry is prioritising core issues such as uplifting low-wage workers, job creation, developing the Singaporean Core and enhancing the effectiveness of fair employment rules,” Dr Tan said.

He added that the Government will continue to promote work-life harmony by supporting initiatives such as flexible work arrangements and the Alliance for Action on Work Life Harmony, which was launched earlier this year for groups to work together to push for improvements in work-life balance.

“Having said that, we welcome research or studies by others that can contribute to the development of policies that are pro-worker and pro-business,” Dr Tan said. — TODAY

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