Companies in Singapore hit by Malaysia lockdown to get $50 per night over 2 weeks for each affected worker’s lodging

People arriving at Woodlands Checkpoint on 17 March, 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore)
People arriving at Woodlands Checkpoint on 17 March, 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — Companies in Singapore hit by Malaysia’s lockdown will get $50 for every affected worker per night over two weeks to help ease additional costs incurred in securing temporary lodging for them here, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said on Tuesday (17 March).

This “temporary relief measure” will give companies more time to work out sustainable arrangements and more details on how they can apply for it will be announced at a later date, said Teo at a press conference chaired by the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce.

“We advise employers to assess manpower needs carefully and make a considered decision as to whether they need their affected workers to remain in Singapore,” she added, noting that many of these workers are hired by companies that provide essential services, such as healthcare, security, cleaning, transport as well as waste and facilities management.

Teo said that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has released a list of 20 hotels and four dormitories where companies can consider housing these affected workers. The hotels on the list include Furama Riverfront, Peninsula Excelsior Hotel, and three Ibis budget Singapore hotels.

The ministry is also working with the industry to facilitate the accommodation in Housing Board flats and private properties for such workers.

Teo also reiterated the MOM’s call for companies to encourage such workers to stay with their relatives, friends or colleagues, who may be willing to accommodate them for a short period.

Thus far, employers have mostly been able to find accommodation options on their own, she added.

“But a number have had difficulty and approached us, several hundred or so. And by and large, we do have enough capacity to help them. So I'm confident that all of the needs can be met,” explained Teo, who disclosed that more than 10,000 workers have been matched so far for their accommodation.

Her remarks come a day after Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced a nationwide restriction of movement in the country from 18 to 31 March, in a bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

All non-essential businesses will be closed. Malaysians are prohibited from travelling overseas, while foreign tourists and visitors will not be allowed to enter Malaysia.

1% of public healthcare workers affected

About 300,000 people travel across the Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints daily, according to local authorities.

Of these, about 1,000 public healthcare workers in Singapore – or one per cent of the sector – commute daily via these checkpoints, said Health Minister and taskforce co-chair Gan Kim Yong who was also present at the conference. The majority of them are nurses and healthcare assistants, he added, in response to media queries.

“The hospitals and various service providers are now working with these healthcare workers to see whether we can accommodate them in Singapore,” said Gan.

“We have sufficient accommodation to provide for them to stay in Singapore if they wish to. But some of them may decide to go back to Malaysia, because of their family and many other reasons.”

Gan said the ministry will allow them to go back as well as make interim arrangements from Singapore’s current manpower resources to supplement those who are not able to return to Singapore.

When asked about the possibility of relaxing restrictions on short-term rental here, taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong stressed the government is prepared to be flexible on existing rules regarding occupancy in Housing board flats, given the current public health emergency.

This may include changing the number of months of rent required for the duration of a rental agreement.

“And if it goes beyond two weeks I'm sure by then, we will have sufficient rent units available for employers to put in place, appropriate rental arrangements,” Wong, who is also National Development Minister, said.

Separately on Tuesday, National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU) executive secretary Melvin Yong said on Facebook that the union has worked with the Land Transport Authority and the public transport operators to secure and provide hotel accommodation for over 2,500 affected public transport workers for the next two weeks.

These workers, including Malaysian bus captains and technicians, will also be given a daily allowance to defray some “unexpected living expenses”, he added.

“To further support our public transport workers during this challenging time, the union is looking at providing subsidised meals to our members at our NTWU canteens across the island. More details will be shared in due course,” said Yong, who is also Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC.

To date, Singapore has 266 confirmed cases of the virus, of which over 100 are imported. While 114 patients have fully recovered and have been discharged from hospital, 14 remain in critical condition in the intensive care unit.

– Additional reporting by Nicholas Yong

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