Inclusion of Persons with Mental Health Conditions in Special Employment Credit and Open Door Programmes

Parliamentary Question: 7 May 2019

https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/people-with-mental-illness-deserve-a-shot-at-work

Ms Anthea Ong asked the Minister for Manpower (a) whether persons with mental health conditions will be included in the Special Employment Credit and Open Door programmes and, if so, when; and (b) given that the Workplace Safety and Health Institute’s Research Agenda for Singapore 2018–2020 listed “work stress” as one of its priorities under long-term challenges alongside “ageing workforce and technology”, whether the Ministry is considering legislative interventions for risk assessments and counter-measures in the area of physical and mental health.

The Minister of State for Manpower (Mr Zaqy Mohamad) (for the Minister for Manpower): Mr Speaker, the Special Employment Credit (SEC) and Open Door Programme (ODP) cover persons with special needs who face significant disadvantages in employment. Under the Enabling Masterplan, this refers to those with physical, sensory, intellectual and developmental impairments. These are unlike mental health conditions which can improve or be managed with appropriate interventions.

We recognise that some jobseekers with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders may also require employment assistance. They can approach the Job Club under the Institute of Mental Health for job preparation and matching services, while managing their conditions. They can also tap on the range of programmes and services under the Adapt and Grow Initiative.

To manage mental health issues at work, our efforts have been to educate companies to be more aware of how work stress may lead to mental health issues, and of course, to implement progressive practices that they can adopt to help employees manage stress, whether from work or non-work factors.

For instance, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) provides on-site Management Training workshops to equip managers and HR professionals with skills to recognise employees with common mental health issues, including stress, and to support employees in managing them. HPB has also made available workplace mental health programmes that give practical tips to workers on effective stress management.

The Workplace Safety and Health Institute’s research on work stress aims to help MOM and companies understand employees’ perceptions of stress, what it could be linked to and how it impacts their well-being. The research will help in educating and socialising companies to be more aware of the effects of stress.

While legislation is necessary to ensure employment protection, the tripartite partners prefer a promotional approach to bring about more progressive workplaces. This recognises the diverse workforce and employers, where rigid prescriptions are unlikely to be effective or may deter employers from hiring. To help workers and employers deal with the challenges of mental health at the workplace, we will continue to raise awareness, step up education and share best practices.

Ms Anthea Ong (Nominated Member): I thank the Minister of State for the response. Can I just ask what is actually stopping us from using the SEC and ODP to include persons with mental health conditions?

Mr Zaqy Mohamad: Firstly, I think there is a big difference between how we classify disability and health conditions. So, the SEC and ODP cover all persons that have been medically certified to have, for example, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), compared to, say, stress-related disorder which is considered a developmental impairment under the Enabling Masterplan. And that is how we define persons with disabilities or persons with special needs. We do make a distinction, similar to how we distinguish physical disability versus, for example, diabetes or someone with chronic illness. So, therefore, I think there is a difference there. But again, as I said, there are schemes to help those with mental health concerns or issues to find them employment, for example, through the Job Club at IMH. There are other schemes that are available. But rest assured that we will help them and get employers more aware of this issue.

Ms Anthea Ong: Thank you. Actually, my concern is not so much the help that the person is getting but the support that we give to employers, which is really what the SEC and ODP are about. This comes from my personal experience. I am involved in the social enterprise Hush where we employ persons in recovery and with mental conditions. The effort has not been a walk in the park. A lot of effort needs to put in. So, I am wondering if there is any support, very similar to SEC and ODP for employers who want to take the journey in employing more persons with mental health conditions. We understand that amongst the differently-abled groups in Singapore, persons with mental health conditions actually face the highest unemployment rate.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad: You have to separate the schemes. Perhaps, the Member is not aware of the objective of the schemes. The SEC and ODP are both meant for persons with special needs, classified as disabled and is an impairment for them. For persons with mental health conditions, as I mentioned, we do have programmes to help them with employability. Certainly, I am mindful that their conditions do need a bit of help. And therefore, we have the Job Club, for example, that IMH runs, together in partnership with the Government. It provides not just employment facilitation but it also has some social workers there. You have occupational therapists there as well to provide relevant support for them to be engaged in the workforce. So, this is something that, if the Member has, I suppose, persons with mental conditions that need to be employed, talk to us. We will try to see how we can work things out with Adapt and Grow.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Anthea Ong is a Nominated Member of Parliament. (A Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) is a Member of the Parliament of Singapore who is appointed by the President. They are not affiliated to any political party and do not represent any constituency. There are currently nine NMPs in Parliament.)

The multi-sector perspective that comes from her ground immersion of 12 years in different capacities helps her translate single-sector issues and ideas across boundaries without alienating any particular community/group. As an entrepreneur and with many years in business leadership, it is innate in her to discuss social issues with the intent of finding solutions, or at least of exploring possibilities. She champions mental health, diversity and inclusion — and volunteerism in Parliament.

She is also an impact entrepreneur/investor and a passionate mental health advocate, especially in workplace wellbeing. She started WorkWell Leaders Workgroup in May 2018 to bring together top leaders (CXOs, Heads of HR/CSR/D&I) of top employers in Singapore (both public and private) to share, discuss and co-create inclusive practices to promote workplace wellbeing. Anthea is also the founder of Hush TeaBar, Singapore’s 1st silent teabar and a social movement that aims to bring silence, self care and social inclusion into every workplace, every community — with a cup of tea. The Hush Experience is completely led by lovingly-trained Deaf facilitators, supported by a team of Persons with Mental Health Issues (PMHIs).

A full-time human, and part-time everything else.

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