SINGAPORE: All workplaces except for those providing essential services and those able to operate remotely will be suspended from Apr 7 to May 4 during a month-long “circuit breaker” campaign to curb further spread of COVID-19, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo on Friday (Apr 3).
Previously, employers were still allowed to have some employees work physically at their premises if they implemented safe distancing measures, but now, Mrs Teo said, “we need all premises to close”. “None of those workplace activities should continue,” she added.
Companies able to conduct business operations while their employees work from home will be allowed to continue running.
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Otherwise, operations will have to be reduced or to cease completely, she said.
Employers that fail to comply with these new regulations could be jailed or fined under the Infectious Diseases Act.
Companies that offer essential services or are strategic to the economy will still be allowed to continue as well, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said earlier in his speech on Friday.
At a press conference held by the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force after Mr Lee’s address, Mrs Teo said that employers should start discussing work arrangements with their workers.
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Those that need clarifications can contact the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), which will keep its contact centre open throughout this weekend.
In a separate press release, MOM said that its officers will begin enforcement operations on Apr 7 to ensure that only businesses that are exempted from the suspension are operating from their workplaces.
“For employers who cannot work from home or at their workplace premises, employers should work out with them clear salary and leave arrangement, based on the principle of shared responsibility,” the ministry wrote.
“Such arrangements should take into consideration the government support for wages and any subsidies for training.”
As workplaces shut down for four weeks, the Government is looking at boosting wage subsidies and suspending foreign worker levies, Mrs Teo said.
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The Jobs Support Scheme, in which the Government co-funds salaries, will be enhanced to help businesses pay local workers, noting that some of these companies’ operations will be reduced or ceased during this period, she said.
Details will be announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in a few days.
The Government is also looking into waiving foreign worker levies for the next four weeks so that businesses can “restart smoothly after this break”, she said.
“We will also consider if employers need temporary help to ensure they have the essential workforce to restart.”
ESSENTIAL SERVICES TO REMAIN OPEN
Mr Lee earlier announced that food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and key banking services will remain open as they are considered essential services.
Those who work in economic sectors that are strategic or form part of the global supply chain can continue going to work as well.
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“But most other work premises must close,” Mr Lee said. “If the person can work from home, he should do so.”
“We have to ensure that most of our workforce stays at home and limit their physical interaction to as few people as possible,” he added.
Mr Lee noted however, that individuals like foreign workers who work on construction sites and in shipyards will not be able to do so.
“These workers live in dormitories and we will make arrangements to look after them,” he said.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministerial task force looking at the COVID-19 situation, said the circuit breaker reinforces the recent workplace safe distancing measures introduced.
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While many workers have begun telecommuting, some employees have still been forced to be physically at their offices even though their work allows them to work remotely, he said.
“We must assume that the virus is circulating within our own population. There will be undetected carriers amongst us,” Mr Wong said. “Each and every interaction we have with others may well be the link that causes the virus to spread and causes a new infection cluster.”
“That’s why we are now doing this major circuit breaker … and making it very clear. The rules are simple and we hope everybody takes this seriously: Stay at home.”