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‘Right to disconnect’ laws protecting workers’ personal time may be too rigid for S’pore: Zaqy Mohamad

SINGAPORE — With many workers here employed at companies covering different time zones, it might not be feasible to pass laws that would give workers the right to ignore work calls and emails after business hours, Mr Zaqy Mohamad said on Tuesday (Oct 6).

‘Right to disconnect’ laws protecting workers’ personal time may be too rigid for S’pore: Zaqy Mohamad

Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State for Manpower, said that the Government is observing how "right to disconnect" laws are working out in the countries that have implemented them.

  • Such laws may not be feasible as many workers here work for multinationals, Mr Zaqy said
  • Some also like the flexibility of managing their own schedules, he said
  • He was responding to calls for such laws by labour MP Melvin Yong
  • Mr Yong noted working from home during the pandemic has blurred the lines between personal and office hours

 

SINGAPORE — With many workers here employed at companies covering different time zones, it might not be feasible to pass laws that would give workers the right to ignore work calls and emails after business hours, Mr Zaqy Mohamad said on Tuesday (Oct 6).

The Senior Minister of State for Manpower said, however, that the Government is observing how such laws are working out in the countries that have implemented them, and may consider whether they could be applied in Singapore.

Mr Zaqy was responding to Mr Melvin Yong, Member of Parliament (MP) for Radin Mas, who asked that the Government consider incorporating aspects of “right to disconnect” legislation in an upcoming advisory on mental health that is due in the coming months. 

This tripartite advisory, which will include input from the Government, labour movement and employers, will aim to help employers take steps to improve the mental well-being of workers. Mr Yong is also the assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, which anchors the labour movement.

Mr Zaqy said that the rigid enforcement of the boundary between work and personal life might also impede some workers, who enjoy the flexibility of caring for their children, running errands in the day and working at night.

The “right to disconnect” law was first enacted in France in 2017. Workers in an organisation that has more than 50 employees are forbidden from sending or replying to emails after certain hours. Other countries such as Italy and the Philippines have since taken steps to push forth similar legislation. 

Mr Zaqy said: “This is something new… and many countries are still observing and seeing how this works out before we can consider whether it's feasible to include in the legislation.”

Mr Yong had first urged the Government to consider a “right to disconnect” law in August during the debate on the President’s Address in Parliament. 

On Tuesday, he brought it up again, noting that prolonged teleworking arrangements during the Covid-19 pandemic have blurred the boundaries between home and work for many people, especially among white-collar professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).

“Many have told me that they now work increasingly long hours, as emails, calls, and WhatsApp messages have come in outside of their regular working hours,” Mr Yong said. “Some said that they now have online Zoom work meetings in the night, which they never had before Covid.”

Mr Zaqy said that the authorities will bear this in mind as it works on the upcoming tripartite advisory on mental health.

In the meantime, an inter-agency advisory on supporting the mental health and well-being of workers under Covid-19 work arrangements, which was published in April, serves as a useful reference for employers. 

Some of the recommendations from the advisory include having supervisors check on staff members at least once a week on how they are coping with work and referring them to external help if needed.

Mr Louis Ng, MP for Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency, asked Mr Zaqy if the upcoming advisory would make clear that employers should not request mental health information from workers unless the condition has a direct connection with their ability to perform their job.

Mr Zaqy replied that he would not be able to confirm this because the advisory is still in the works. 

“But I think today, the practice is already in place and something we encourage strongly,” he said. “This is something, I think, to which we need to hold strongly.”

Related topics

work-life balance right to disconnect Zaqy Mohamad mental health

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