THE People's Action Party Women's Wing is calling for new laws to compel employers to give mothers flexible work arrangements.

The proposal, part of a position paper submitted to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday, is one several measures it suggests to get more women back into the workforce.

The resident labour force participation rate for women is 57.7 per cent, in contrast to that for men, which is 76 per cent.

The proposed flexi-work legislation would include a provision allowing workers - both male and female, with children below the age of 12 - to request a change in the number of hours, and when and where they work. Similar laws already exist in countries such as Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

Workers would also be allowed to take no-pay leave for up to one year to take care of their children, and guaranteed positions in their companies when they return.

The Women's Wing hopes that these laws could be introduced within the next two to three years but suggested that the Government could start by first setting clear guidelines on flexi-work for employers.

West Coast GRC MP Foo Mee Har and Marine Parade GRC MP Fatimah Lateef led a team of Women's Wing members in drafting the paper over six months, with input from party activists and businesses.

Apart from flexi-work laws, they suggested bumping up the newly announced week-long paternity leave to two months which could be used by either parent.

The paper also suggests incentives for pro-family employers.

Companies which have fair employment practices and fulfil certain criteria in hiring women, including back-to-work mothers, older workers, persons with special needs and minorities, could be given help in hiring foreign workers if needed.

For example, their applications for work passes could be processed faster.

All companies could also receive an employment credit for hiring women returning to the workforce, for up to one year.

The paper also suggests setting up an agency to serve as a one-stop centre for pro-family and flexi-work practices and establishing guidelines for offices and commercial hubs of a certain size to have space dedicated to childcare centres.

Ms Foo said it was necessary for more government intervention to encourage pro-family practices. She said: "The experiences of other countries and our own suggest that fundamental changes will not occur naturally."

But business associations yesterday expressed reservations about having new laws.

Singapore Business Federation chief operating officer Victor Tay said that while an incentive scheme would encourage companies, legislation might hurt.

He pointed out that some businesses such as retail, food and beverage and hotels will require employees to be on-site.

Similarly, the Singapore National Employers Federation said yesterday that such laws might create "unnecessary friction and stress at the workplace". "Not every job can be done on flexi-hours and few companies can guarantee a job 12 months later," it added.