SINGAPORE: Companies that do not allow telecommuting wherever possible may be issued a stop-work order, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo on Tuesday (Mar 31). 

In a press conference held by the multi-ministry task force tackling the COVID-19 outbreak, Mrs Teo said the manpower ministry is looking at levelling fines and other penalties on such companies, who do not arrange for flexible work arrangements that might help to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

The Government will however take a measured approach to this, said Mrs Teo, by looking first at the firm’s specific circumstances. 

“If the company is really not taking it seriously at all, then we have no choice and will not hesitate to issue a stop-work order,” she said, adding that the duration of such an order would depend on factors such as the severity of the case.  

READ: COVID-19: Rise in Singapore’s locally transmitted and unlinked cases, Health Minister stresses importance of safe distancing

The public sector has been taking the lead on telecommuting, with some government agencies such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Infocomm Media Development Authority having up to 90 per cent of their staff telecommuting.  

“Even for counter service, we are encouraging members of the public to send in their queries or to get more and more of the services completed online,” she said. 

Some companies, such as media and finance outfit Bloomberg, had achieved up to 80 per cent of workers telecommuting, Mrs Teo noted, while others had managed to get all of their staff on such arrangements. 

However, MOM estimated that for companies in the Central Business District, only 40 per cent of workers were telecommuting. 

READ: ‘No magic solution’ – Lawrence Wong on why Singapore is not locked down amid COVID-19 outbreak

This was based on the ministry’s own inspections as well as other sources of information, Mrs Teo said at the press event, which was held via video conference. 

“So there is a lot of scope for us to do more, especially the private sector firms. I want to emphasise this, employers must allow your employees to work from home, as far as reasonably practicable,” she said. 

“If the nature of work can allow for work to be done from home, companies should ensure that all the employees work from home.”

Mrs Teo said that MOM plans to have more than 100 officers check on companies who have not implemented flexible work arrangements, a five-fold increase from the current figure. 

Mrs Teo acknowledged though that certain sectors, such as manufacturing, may not necessarily be able to implement work-from-home arrangements.

In such cases, companies should implement safe distancing measures for their staff when interacting with others, including external parties such as customers or vendors, she noted. 

Companies should also introduced staggered working hours, such that staff arrive and leave work at different times, she noted. 

READ: 47 new COVID-19 cases in Singapore, including 31 locally transmitted cases – MOH

“Don’t create a situation where everyone has to arrive at the same time, take the same lifts, and create also this kind of situation where everyone has to leave at the same time and go to the bus stops at the same time.”

She added MOM would look into enhancing the Work-Life Grant, which provides companies with up to S$70,000 over two years to offer staff flexible work arrangements such as working from home. 

“Companies that need help implementing telecommuting can approach the Singapore Manufacturing Federation, the Employment and Employability Institute or the Singapore National Employers Federation for assistance on how to do so,” said Mrs Teo. 

Increasing telecommuting is necessary as the emergence of several recent clusters show workplaces as “venues of transmission” for the coronavirus, noted Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

“Getting employers to work from home, to get more of their staff to work from home is essential,” said Mr Wong, who is co-chair of the multi-ministry task force. 

Many employers have moved on to telecommuting, he added, noting one indicator of this was the 30 per cent drop in the number of commuters on public transport. 

“That’s not bad, but we need to go further, particularly if we also want to do safe distancing in our public transport system.”

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