Coronavirus: Singapore

11 firms fined for not getting staff to work from home

Eleven companies have been fined for failing to get their employees to work from home.

They were caught during inspections conducted by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). More than 530 workplaces were inspected between May 8 and last Friday.

Offenders will be fined $1,000, with the amount rising to $2,000 for repeat breaches.

All employees who are able to work from home must do so, under the latest advisory for safe management measures issued on May 14, MOM said in a statement yesterday.

Only employees who are unable to work from home owing to the nature of their work - such as those who need to access equipment housed in the workplace - can continue to work on-site, said the ministry.

All employers who carry out operations on-site must declare the number of workers they have at the workplace.

They are required by the Ministry of Trade and Industry to do this by Friday, and must update the ministry when there are significant changes.

"Regardless of the declared number of workers, it is the employer's responsibility to ensure that all employees work from home if they are able to do so," said MOM.

MOM will penalise employers if staff who can work from home are found on-site, even if they do not exceed the maximum number allowed at the workplace.

Some employees told The Straits Times that their companies have been resistant to the new restrictions.

An employee of a branding agency who wanted to be known only as Ms Callie, 25, said her employers had insisted that staff return to the office last week despite the new guidelines. The company reversed its decision last Thursday.

She said that her employers had initially said she and her co-workers had to return as they were essential workers.

"My colleagues and I were quite angry because we think it is dangerous for us to go to work every day and potentially bring the virus back to vulnerable family members - one of them has a kid and another lives with her grandmother," she said, referring to the virus that causes Covid-19.

She said her work, which involves mainly research, can be done from home.

An events company employee, who wanted to be known only as Ms Ye, 40, is still required by her employers to go to the office. She is worried about being exposed to the virus, especially as there are new strains of it and higher daily Covid-19 case numbers.

"I would think commuting to work should be avoided at all costs for now," she said. "My colleagues and I can be just as effective from home in our line of work."

In February, about 140 companies were told to stop on-site operations after serious breaches of Covid-19 workplace safety rules.

MOM said in a Facebook post on Feb 6 that more than 280 companies had been fined from March last year to February this year.

January saw the formation of two Covid-19 workplace clusters - one at Golden Bridge Foods Manufacturing in Senoko and another at BS Industrial and Construction Supply in Kallang.

Golden Bridge's cluster had three Covid-19 cases linked to it - two co-workers and the wife of one of them - while BS Industrial's had eight cases - six employees, one spouse and a housemate.

MOM also said employers must ensure that adequate safe management measures are in place at all times for employees who are on-site. These include:

• Staggering start times and allowing flexible workplace hours;

• No cross-deployment across workplaces or worksites;

• No social gatherings at work;

• Meal breaks must be taken alone and at staggered time; and

• Masks must be worn at the workplace at all times.

MOM said it would be increasing its inspections to ensure that the latest guidelines are followed. The full list of guidelines can be found at http://go.gov.sg/smm

Ng Wei Kai

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2021, with the headline 11 firms fined for not getting staff to work from home. Subscribe