Noting that the Tripartite Advisory on Mental Health is currently undergoing consultation, Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said in Parliament on Tuesday (6 October) that by the end of the year, an advisory will be released to help employers improve the mental well-being of their employees.
Mr Zaqy was responding to a question by Radin Mas MP Melvin Yong.
The mental well-being advisory mentioned by the Senior Minister for State will highlight initiatives that companies can emulate from providing employees with access to anonymised external counselling services to training supervisors to look out for early symptoms of mental health issues.
Mr Zaqy said that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is collaborating with employers, unions, mental health professional and civil society groups such as the Youth Wellbeing Network on this advisory. He added that the Inter-Agency Advisory published in April on supporting the mental well-being of workers on COVID-19 arrangements could be a useful reference for this latest project.
The recommendation to come up with such an advisory was discussed earlier this year in March during the MOM’s Committee of Supply debates.
Back then, Mr Zaqy had said that an advisory would help educate employers on the best ways to support their staff’s mental well-being.
The advisory would contain a list of external sources employers could engage in order to provide mental health support for their workers, said Mr Zaqy, adding that employers can also take the initiative to check in with their employees from time to time.
“For instance, supervisors can check in regularly with their workers, talk to them to find out if they are facing any problems, and refer them to external help if needed,” added Mr Zaqy.
As part of his question, Mr Yong had also asked if the Tripartite Advisory would address the right of employees to not work outside of work hours—an issue that is becoming prevalent given that the prolong remote-work arrangements have dissolved boundaries between work and home life for many people.
“Many have told me that they now work increasingly long hours as e-mails, calls and WhatsApp messages have come in outside of their regular working hours. Some shared that they now have Zoom work meetings in the night, which they never had before Covid-19,” said the MP.
In response, Mr Zaqy conceded that the current remote-working arrangement has indeed blurred the lines between work and personal time. He said it is crucial for the Government to look into how to better manage this balance, though he noted that the “right to disconnect” law is relatively new around the world. Many countries, including Singapore, are still waiting to see how it pans out.
“We must consider whether something like this would be relevant or rigid in Singapore’s context, given that many of us do work for multinational firms or firms that work across time zones,” said Mr Zaqy.
Additionally, he said that rigidly enforcing work hours could result in a negative impact on employees who thrive on the flexibility of working at night and doing other things in the daytime, such as running errands.
Even so, the Senior Minister for State accepted that these are important concerns that could be raised as part of the discussion on the Tripartite Advisory.
On the same matter, Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng asked if the advisory would also clearly detail that employers should not ask for information on an employee’s mental health condition unless that condition has a direct impact on their ability to perform at work.
Mr Zaqy responded that since the advisory has yet to be announced, he cannot confirm if that is included. Though he added that they will look into it.
He then noted that currently, employers are already discouraged from asking about that sort of information during the hiring process in cases where it is not absolutely necessary.
“This is something that I think we need to hold strong to… rest assured… we want to make sure that the well-being of our workers are protected, both from the physical health state, as well as the mental health state,” he assured.