Posted on 24 February 2020
Singapore reported its first case of the novel coronavirus, now named Covid-19, on 23 January 2020. Since then, the situation has worsened, with more local cases than foreign. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has been quoted as saying that the economic impact could already be greater than Sars in 2003, and he could not rule out the possibility of a recession.
On the manpower front, the Prime Minister asserted that Singapore will take “sensible judgements” on the best course of action, but life must continue. Hence, measures to tide Singaporean business and workers over the Wuhan virus must be sustainable and come from a long-term perspective.
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing asserted that protecting the jobs of Singaporeans and ensuring the survival of businesses will be the Government's focus. He listed various measures during his Budget speech on 18 February 2020.
These measures include:
- A $4 billion package, the Stabilisation and Support Package, announced during the Budget 2020 speech on 18 February 2020. It aims to support companies through the virus outbreak by helping their cash flow and worker retention issues. Primarily, it consists of the new Jobs Support Scheme and enhancements to the Wage Credit Scheme. Additional measures were rolled out for the tourism, aviation, retail, food services and point-to-point transport services sectors.
- A series of enhanced guidelines issued by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to protect workers along with a general advisory for employers if a confirmed or suspect case of COVID-19 is detected at the workplace. They advised temperature checks, splitting teams and letting staff work from home where possible when the alert was raised to Dorscon Orange. Long queues formed at Suntec City and Raffles Place on 10 February 2020, the first day of mandatory screening for office workers.
- As many healthcare workers have had their leave frozen to deal with the Covid-19 situation, public healthcare institutions will be helping them get refunds or defray the expenses for travel and holiday arrangements they had to forgo.
- Cabbies and private-hire drivers (such as Grab drivers), can access a $77 million package to tide them over the sharp drop in business caused by the coronavirus crisis. The package is co-funded, with the Government contributing $45 million and taxi and private-hire companies paying for the rest.
From 18 February 2020, a Stay-Home Notice was enforced for Singapore residents and long-term pass holders returning from mainland China. It required that they stay home for 14 days at all times. It also meant the Government no longer issued new LOA notices to returnees with recent travel history to China, outside of Hubei province. As of noon 19 February, a day after the scheme took effect, 77 stay-home notices were issued.
MOM further outlined responsibilities for employers towards work-pass holders on Stay-Home Notice. These included ensuring they can obtain meals and other daily essentials. If the work-pass holder is unable to make his own arrangements, the employer will have to make the necessary arrangements.
MOM also makes over 1,000 calls and random checks to ensure compliance, and revoked the work passes and suspended work pass privileges of employees and employers who violated the mandatory requirements and entry approval requirements. It also emphasised that employers who “act irresponsibly”, such as by dropping off workers to be tested for the virus, may have their work pass privileges suspended, as hospitals will not test individuals who are well.
Separately, construction companies have been asking if they have the option of invoking force majeure clauses in building contracts, as many Chinese workers have been turned away or quarantined as part of measures to contain the spread. Force majeure refers to unexpected external circumstances that prevent a party to a contract from meeting their obligations. Construction firms interviewed by TODAY said the restrictions imposed by the Singapore and Chinese authorities have led to a manpower crunch and the problem has been especially acute for firms which predominantly hire Chinese workers.
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