Wuhan virus: Employers must inform MOM of workers returning to Singapore from China – Lawrence Wong

From left to right: CEO of Dormitory operator TS Group Shamkumar Subramani on a tour of an isolation room at Tuas View Dormitory, along with National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo on 6 February, 2020. (PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore)
From left to right: CEO of dormitory operator TS Group Shamkumar Subramani on a tour of an isolation room at Tuas View Dormitory, along with National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo on 6 February, 2020. (PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — Employers in Singapore must report to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on the return of their workers from China to Singapore, said Lawrence Wong, the co-chair of the multi-ministry task force on the Wuhan coronavirus, on Thursday (6 February).

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a visit to Tuas View Dormitory, the National Development Minister said the move will allow authorities to stagger the return of these workers and manage the flow better.

Such new measures and more will be part of tighter surveillance and enforcement of the 14-day leave of absence (LOA), made mandatory for all returning workers from mainland China regardless of whether they are Singapore residents or foreign work pass holders.

When asked to provide details on how stricter enforcement of the LOA would be carried out, Wong said that the agencies involved are working out the details and will announce in due course, “very soon”.

On tighter surveillance measures, he pointed out that “a series of very strict surveillance measures” are already in place for those on home quarantine, including phone calls, spot checks, and video calls.

Similar technologies can be applied to those serving the LOA, added Wong.

On penalties and fines for those flouting the LOA requirement, he said, “For example, if it's a company that is dealing with a returning PRC worker who is on a work pass, we do have a range of penalties that we can impose on the company in terms of their work permit privileges as well as on the worker.”

Financial aid given to employers with workers on LOA

Wong also announced that employers whose employees are serving the LOA will also get $100 a day for each affected worker – both Singapore residents and work pass holders alike –, on top of a waiver for foreign worker levy where applicable.

Previously, only employers whose employees are quarantined are eligible for such financial assistance.

This extension of assistance is in response to employers who have requested for it to be extended to employers affected by workers who go on LOA, Wong said.

“Because whether it’s LOA or quarantine, businesses are equally affected, they are disrupted and projects are being delayed,” he explained.

Addressing concerns from landlords who are renting rooms to workers serving the LOA and are living with family members – including vulnerable groups like children and the elderly – , Wong said that the authorities will work with dormitory operators to provide accommodation to affected workers in such circumstances.

Authorities announced on Monday that landlords found to have irresponsibly evicted their residents may face restrictions and even be barred from renting out their flats to foreign work pass holders in the future.

Wong noted that landlords renting out units to workers serving the LOA have been “for the most part very responsible and cooperative”.

Only a handful of employers have reached out to the authorities for help on alternative accommodation for affected workers, he added, without providing figures.

“We are also very mindful that all of these measures that we have put in place will have an impact on employers. We’ve said before that we are working out a package of measures to help businesses and employers, and that we will announce this package during the Budget (18 February),” he said.

Wong and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo were at the Tuas View Dormitory to tour a 32-bed facility – converted from a cinema – designated for workers on LOA and one of its 50 two-bed isolation rooms.

When pressed on how many of the 30,000 work pass holders from China have returned to Singapore, Teo said the majority have not returned given the current flight and travel restrictions in place, without providing figures.

On the number of workers currently serving the LOA, she noted that there are not “that many”, adding that the exact figure is still being tabulated by the authorities.

Shamkumar Subramani, CEO of TS Group, which runs the Tuas View Dormitory, said the operator will open its LOA facility for workers who require alternative accommodation but priority will be given to its residents.

There are a total of 45 dormitories for foreign workers in Singapore, according to the MOM website.

About 11,700 workers – employed by 300 companies – reside at Tuas View Dormitory, of which less than 10 per cent are from China.

The capacity of facilities to accommodate workers on LOA and under isolation can be “doubled where necessary” and converted from open-air areas such as the dormitory’s multi-purpose hall and gym, said Shamkumar.

For now, they are only available at the dormitory at Tuas, but “depending on the direction of the government”, similar measures will be made across the three other dormitories operated by the group, he added.


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