THE National Trades Union Congress has reiterated its call on employers and the government to implement the right to request flexible work arrangements for all employees.

In a statement yesterday, NTUC welcomed the recent improvements in employment practices for working families, such as the extended childcare leave announced in the Enhanced Marriage and Parenthood Package and the boost in quality of pre-school education announced in the Budget. However, it said that more can be done to help working families achieve better work-life balance.

"The right to request flexible work arrangements should be extended to all parents," it said, highlighting that priority should be given to parents of very young children and children with special needs.

Any refusal of an employee's request should be "shown by the employer to have been made on reasonable business grounds", it added.

Aside from engaging companies to implement flexible work arrangements, NTUC is also exploring legislative means. It is working with the government "to include the right to flexible work arrangements in a set of Tripartite Guidelines", and calls for the government to provide incentives to promote such a practice. In addition, NTUC is also advocating six months of government-paid leave and six months of unpaid leave for mothers.

"We hope that mothers can return to the same job and same pay after leave."

NTUC's latest set of recommendations follows the release of findings from a "Happiness Poll" that its Family Development Unit conducted in November 2012. Of the 5,720 respondents, 61 per cent indicated that they were happy, citing marriage, parenthood, and supportive family members as contributing factors to happiness.

The poll also identified greater financial stability and better work-life balance as the most important factors that will make Singaporeans even happier.

Cham Hui Fong, assistant secretary-general of NTUC, pointed out that only a few unionised companies have flexible work arrangements clearly defined in the employment agreement. She hoped that both employers and employees will adopt a "give and take" approach.

"We want both parties to mutually agree that this is something which is for the collective good of the company," she said.

Co-workers play an important role in covering the duties of someone on FWA, she noted.

Adding that a "pro-family culture" in companies is also important, she said: "When we do advocacy, we are promoting the right culture and mindset that 'we have to help one another'."

Ms Cham does not agree that legislation of flexible work arrangements will lead to great discrimination and unemployment. Given greater competition in the labour market, she said, companies that have such arrangements for employees will be attractive to job-seekers.

Said Ang Yuit, managing director of The Adventus Consultants: "Quite a few SMEs . . . are already having flexible work arrangements." He adds that his company of over 20 people allows for such arrangements "as and when the employees require".