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Women’s Employment in Singapore

According to Gan Siow Huang, the Minister of State for Manpower, the employment rate for women in Singapore has increased in recent years. In particular, the 54% female employment rate in 2010 rose to 57.5% in 2020. Moreover, there has also been an increase in women who are professionals, managers, executives, and technicians (PMETs). In 2010, women only contributed 41.1% to the aforementioned professions. However, in 2020, this had increased to 45.6%. 

It has also been noted that 52.8% of the workers in the information and communications, financial services, and health and social services sectors are women. In terms of positions related to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), women comprised 32.4% of the sector in 2020. This has improved from the 29.9% recorded in 2015. 

One of the factors also brought up that prevent women from joining the workforce is related to the need of some families for caregiving services. In 2020, 15% of survey respondents said that they had not pursued formal full-time employment due to responsibilities with their families. Six percent only pursued part-time employment for the same reason. 

The need for such affects women’s career, financial growth, and savings for retirement. However, Ms. Gan Siow Huang answered that there are also programs in place to relieve those families from such difficulties. There is increased government support to promote the involvement and retainment of women in different sectors. This will be done through engaging different stakeholders in order to create a conducive environment for women to participate in the workforce. There are care services partly shouldered by the government and grants given to those in need of them. Furthermore, the government is also working with relevant institutions to provide flexible work arrangements for women who also have caregiving responsibilities. This can help them transition from being unemployed to being employed. 

Women can enjoy stability in finances and be well-prepared for retirement if they are able to join the workforce and retain their jobs. From 2010 to 2020, there has been an increase in the Central Provident Fund Board (CPF) savings. Employed Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents are eligible for CPF savings to cover expenses related to retirement, housing, and healthcare. These contributions are shouldered by the employer. Apart from this, the Silver Support Scheme has also been made available to individuals who did not earn enough while they were working. This scheme provides payouts as high as 900 Singapore Dollars every four months. Eligible individuals do not need to apply for the scheme; they will be given their payouts as soon as they are identified. It was observed that two-thirds of those who benefit from the Silver Support Scheme are women and caregivers. Ms. Gan Siow Huang said that the government won’t stop its efforts to ensure that caregivers and women have enough financial security at the time of their retirement. 

2019 study on Singapore’s Adjusted Gender Pay Gap

The gender pay gap (GPG) evaluates the income inequality between males and females. This measure provides insight on how men often earn more than women. Furthermore, the adjusted gender pay gap looks into the difference between salaries of men and women, while holding age, education, occupation, industry, and working hours constant. This allows for a direct comparison between men and women who have the same profile. The adjusted GPG decreased to 6.0% in 2018 from 8.8% in 2002. 

The GPG can be attributed to the presence of occupational segregation in the country. Different factors come into play in the decision-making process of women when choosing a job. These include “gender differences in personality traits and skills, psychological traits, and value placed on workplace flexibility and social norms in gender roles within families”. Apart from these factors, discrimination in institutions and the roles of women as parents and caregivers also contribute to the GPG. 

Societal norms in Singapore dictate that women are often considered the primary caregivers at home. Their role then shifts their priority from their career to the upkeep of their home. As such, they prefer to adjust their work schedule so that they can accommodate their responsibilities at home, even if it means having a low-paying job. Because of this, women who have caregiving responsibilities often have less work experience, growth in their career, and savings compared to women without such responsibilities and men. 

It was also concluded that more women have been pursuing higher education and formal employment over the years. 36% of women in Singapore obtained a diploma in 2002. This is in contrast to the 71% of women with a diploma in 2018. There was increased participation in PMETs, but the majority still work as nurses, accountants, and administrative managers. In 2018, there were also more women working as receptionists, customer service and information clerks, accounting associate professionals, shop and store salespersons, administrative professions, and general office clerks. The aforementioned careers are often labeled as positions for women, which have lower salaries compared to careers dominated by men. Positions such as doctors, information and communications technology managers, and physical and engineering science APTs are often occupied by men. In 2018, there were also more men working as sales, marketing, and business development managers, finance and admin managers, accountants, information technology project managers, mechanical engineers, financial analysts, mechanical engineering technicians, and commercial and marketing sales executives. These positions usually have higher salaries compared to the positions where women are aggregated. 

The differences in character between men and women are also an aspect that influences an individual’s choice of job. There have been differences found in sensory, motor, and spatial aptitudes that can contribute to the decision-making process. In particular, women are considered to have more interpersonal skills than men. Because of this, women obtain more satisfaction from working in an environment that involves interacting with people and giving value to society. Women were also found to be less likely to take risks and prefer working environments that have less competition. This also applies to the courses they apply for in university; thereby, affecting their career afterwards. 

Much More Needs to be Done

Ms. Grace Fu, the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, said that there are more actions that the government and stakeholders can take to further progress gender equality in the country. She suggests that men, youth, and seniors should have a platform to be able to discuss and evaluate their perceptions of gender biases and equality. This aims to increase men’s understanding of the different roadblocks that a woman faces. With increased understanding, they can be more compassionate and contribute to the promotion of gender equality. Diversity and fair judgement during the hiring process should also be practiced so that more women can obtain jobs and progress in their careers. Promoting the participation of women in the workforce will help contribute to the economic growth of Singapore. 

How has the COVID-19 Pandemic Affected the Participation of Women in the Workforce? 

The COVID-19 pandemic has given women the opportunity to have more access to flexible work arrangements. This is advantageous for them because they are able to better manage their time between their responsibilities at work and at home. However, it is not without any disadvantages. Some employees who work with such flexible arrangements find it stressful to perform both responsibilities at the same time because of the blurred lines between home and work. As such, it is necessary for employees to be able to draw the line between their two environments. Employers should also help in achieving such a goal by creating guidelines for employees. 

It is necessary for Singapore to encourage more citizens and permanent residents to participate in the workforce because there was a decrease in foreign employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a challenge because less productivity will negatively impact the economic growth of the country. Mr. Yeo Wan Ling, labour MP, states that one step that they can take is to introduce women who have been at home to the workforce. This will involve creating a suitable working environment, flexible working hours, and access to a physical office near their homes. Being able to work in an office allows women to separate work from personal matters, thus increasing their productivity. There should also be training for women so that they can obtain the necessary skills to work in sectors where men usually aggregate. 

Recent Changes in the Country’s Labor Policy

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) adjusted the labor policy for those who have a Dependant’s Pass (DP) last March 2021. Individuals who have an Employment Pass or S Pass, earn at least 6,000 dollars a month, and are sponsored by a company that is registered in Singapore can apply for a DP for their spouses and children less than 21 years of age and who are not married. For individuals who obtain a DP, they are still required to get an Employment Pass, S Pass, or Work Permit should they decide to work in Singapore. The DP is valid for 2 years and should be renewed by the time it expires. Starting February 1, 2022, individuals applying for renewal should have completed their 2-dose regimen of the COVID-19 vaccine. To apply for the DP, documents such as marriage certificate, birth certificate, and vaccination records must be presented.

As mentioned, individuals who have a DP and want to join the workforce in Singapore should apply for the necessary passes, according to their skill level, The Employment Pass is given to foreign workers who have an invitation to work in Singapore with managerial, executive, or specialized jobs, earn at least 4,500 dollars every month, graduated from a distinguished university, have specialized skills, and have professional qualifications. The S Pass is given to those who earn at least 2,500 dollars, have a degree, diploma, or technical certificate, and have work experience related to the job they are applying for. Lastly, the Work Permit is granted to semi-skilled workers. The requirements depend on the sector they are planning to work in. 

However, the aforementioned requirements were not always in place for DP holders who wanted to work in Singapore. Previously, those with a DP only required a Letter of Consent (LOC) from the Ministry of Manpower to be able to legally work in the country. The institution decided to revise its policies in order to have a more congruent criteria with the work pass framework. This will be a challenge for individuals with a DP, mostly women, to obtain employment and have a source of income. In 2020, 11,000 employed individuals in the country had DPs. They are mostly self-employed and work in flexible or part-time arrangements, providing services related to counseling, academic tutoring, retail, and teaching assistantships. 

The implementation of this requirement will make employers more likely to hire Singapore citizens as they meet legal criteria for employment. But, this regulation seems too limiting for some employees and employers because DP holders often work in sectors that Singapore citizens don’t choose to work in. Moreover, DP holders who run small businesses will be required to hire Singapore citizens and provide them with a minimum salary of 1,400 Singapore Dollars and CPF contributions. 

Stories of Expats

One Australian expat who relocated to Singapore shares that she will be unable to meet the criteria for the Employment or S Pass since she works as a part-time writer. Her work remains a priority, and if she cannot work in Singapore or find possible workarounds, she will choose to move to another country together with her family. This has consequences for her family since it will involve relocating her son away from the country he was accustomed to. 

Small business owners often run the whole business by themselves. Employing someone else will not be financially feasible for them. At the same time, the workload required to maintain the small business is not heavy enough to necessitate hiring a bigger team. Some justify that the presence of small businesses does no harm to Singaporean citizens since they do not compete for formal employment. Rather, small businesses promote the increased spending of citizens and residents and contribute to income tax. Altogether, these work for the benefit of Singapore’s economy. 

Moving to Singapore as a DP holder also has its limitations. DP holders, often wives of Employment or S Pass holders or Singapore citizens, cannot freely move around and enter legal transactions without the signature of their spouse. They need the consent of their spouse to open bank accounts and obtain residential agreements. Individuals who applied DP for their spouses also have the power to withdraw such applications. This becomes disadvantageous, especially in marriages that end in divorce. Once the DP is withdrawn, the affected individual can no longer legally reside in Singapore, forcing them to move elsewhere or find other means to stay in the country. This makes women highly dependent on their husbands for the majority of their matters in the country. 

Another expat who moved to Singapore from Italy said that she worries about the high level of dependence that she has on her husband. If an unfortunate incident were to happen to their marriage or her husband, she would need to move elsewhere to be able to generate income. Not being able to contribute to the household expenses may also place pressure on her husband so that they can continue the lifestyle they have. As such, she would prefer to have more financial independence so that she can provide protection for herself and her family. 

Because of the difference in income between the two, women also often adjust to the opportunities that their male partners have. In spite of the growth and qualifications they have established in their chosen line of work, careers are often a second priority to responsibilities at home. The partner of a female expat had a job offer in Singapore; however, she herself was unable to obtain an Employment Pass. Despite this, she chose to follow her partner to Singapore and settled for a Long-Term Visit Pass (LTVP). Having an LTVP does not qualify a holder thereof for employment in the country. She wanted to pursue employment and, as such, the couple decided to get married so that she could become a DP holder. This allowed her to legally establish her small business.

Apart from not being able to generate income, there are also concerns about the decrease in quality of life associated with not being able to work. Some individuals don’t view work just as a means to afford the lifestyle they want. Having the ability to work on something valuable to oneself and the community they reach boosts their confidence and sense of purpose. Bringing together different people and finding common ground among them promotes belongingness and contributes to satisfaction with one’s life. Not being able to work on something that is important to them also negatively affects their mental health. One expat shares that she felt as if she was going nowhere while waiting for the approval of her DP. She would have wanted to develop her skills and participate in something meaningful throughout the day. 

This new regulation places individuals with current DPs at a crossroads. They have the option to either stay in the country but discontinue their work or move elsewhere, requiring their families to adjust in terms of their work and school. At the same time, individuals who plan on moving to Singapore should also take this new policy into consideration. Priorities should be established so that affected individuals and their families can decide accordingly. There is still competition in the local labor market, and it may not always be easy to obtain an approved Employment or S Pass. As such, it is important to have the necessary qualifications to increase the likelihood of getting approved. 

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