COVID-19: Singapore to penalise firms that don't implement telecommuting where possible

Nicholas Yong
Assistant News Editor

SINGAPORE — Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Singapore government is going after companies that do not do enough to implement telecommuting for staff where possible, with fines and even stop-work orders to be imposed.

“If the nature of work can allow for work to be done from home, companies should ensure that all their employees work from home,” said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo at a multi-ministry taskforce virtual press conference on Tuesday (31 March). It was the first time that the MTF had conducted such a briefing online, as part of stringent social distancing measures.

“If we assess that a company has not made a serious enough effort to implement telecommuting, we may have to issue a Stop Work Order,” she added. Fines and other types of penalties are also being considered for errant companies.

Teo cited businesses in Singapore that had successfully implemented telecommuting for a high percentage of their staff, with the public service leading the way.

For instance, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Infocomm Media Development Authority currently have 90 per cent of their staff working from out of the office, while the Bloomberg media company has achieved a rate of 80 per cent.

She noted, however, that only about 40 per cent of businesses in the central business district have implemented telecommuting.

“There is certainly scope to do more, especially the private sector firms. I want to emphasise this; employers must allow their employees to work from home, as far as reasonably practicable,” said Teo.

“This applies to all workplaces, regardless of size. And it should be for all times, all days and not some times, some days,” she added.

Noting that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) would like to see companies implementing telecommuting for all their staff as a matter of principle, she added the MOM would look at companies’ specific circumstances. “100 per cent is better than 80 per cent, 80 per cent is better than 60 per cent,” she said.

For companies whose nature of business do not allow for telecommuting, such as those involved in manufacturing or production lines, Teo said they can still undertake a number of preventive measures.

These include implementing safe distancing measures for staff at work and while interacting with customers or vendors, as well as staggering arrival and departure times for staff so they do not end up gathering in big groups.

At the same press conference, National Development Minister and taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong said that while the volume of peak-hour commuters has fallen by 30 per cent, there is a need to “go further”. He noted that there are several benefits of telecommuting.

“First, we reduce the activity level within workplaces, which themselves can be venues for the transmission of the virus. So we thin out the people, activity in workplaces. But when we work from home, we will also reduce crowdedness in our public transport system, particularly during peak periods,” said Wong.

To help Singapore-based companies implement telecommuting, MOM will also enhance the Work-Life Grant, which provides incentives for companies to adopt flexible work arrangements.

Companies can approach the Singapore Manufacturing Federation, e2i or Singapore National Employers Federation for assistance in this area, said Teo.

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