Wuhan Coronavirus Outbreak - Government emphasises sustainable measures to support Singaporean employability
Wuhan Coronavirus Outbreak - Government emphasises sustainable measures to support Singaporean employability

Posted on 04 February 2020

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The government has put an emphasis on sustainable, long-term measures to deal with the Wuhan virus outbreak and its aftereffects, especially on the workforce.

Currently, Singaporeans, permanent residents, long-term pass holders and work pass holders returning from China will be placed on a leave of absence of 14 days. In response, some firms have enabled their employees to work from home via conference calls and emails. Others have taken to opportunity to train their staff.

However, for affected workers on the front-line, companies are bracing for disruptions to their work practices. Particularly affected are the hospitality and transport industries, who are hiring part-timers and rescheduling shifts to deal with the lack of manpower.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo expressed confidence in Singapore’s industries, highlighting how Singapore’s economy has also diversified significantly since 2003. She recounted that while the tourism and hospitality sectors remain important, they are now a “relatively modest contributor”.

She also recounted that employers she spoke to are well-aware of the situation and are “making every effort to try and carry on with their daily lives and their work”. “For example, business deals that involve Chinese contacts ... may moderate a little bit, but they will then look for other opportunities at this time,” she added.

The government has rolled out several measures to deal with the impact, such as waiving licence fees for affected companies in the hospitality sector, and defraying the cleaning and disinfection costs of hotels that had confirmed and suspected cases of the novel coronavirus.

However, Singaporeans must remain vigilant in the fight against the virus. Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing called on Singaporeans to be prepared for a long-term struggle with the disease. He emphasised the importance of “long haul” measures in his speech, saying: "Because we don't know how long this situation will last, all the measures we take, be it in health, or economics and jobs... must be sustainable. We cannot just be taking measures for the short haul, thinking that it will blow over.”

Minister Chan noted that geopolitical tensions were causing disruptions to the global economy - some exacerbated by the outbreak of the Wuhan virus - leading many workers to feel uncertain about their prospects. "The urgency for us to reskill our workers, for our businesses to find new markets, develop new business models has never been more urgent," he said.

Upskilling measures include stepping up efforts to train workers in their 40s to 50s, enabling them to master new skills and integrate further into the economy through initiatives such as the Professional Conversion Programme. The Scale-up SG programme launched last year will also be expanded, with more details to be released during the Budget speech on 18 February 2020.

The government is also studying the possibility of giving bridging loans to help businesses with cash flow issues.

The spread of the Wuhan virus has heightened economic troubles due to trade tensions, leading Mrs Teo to conclude that “investment decisions are bound to be reexamined”. However, Mr Chan assured workers that the government would help them stay employable and continue to support Singapore through the crisis.

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