Coronavirus: Firms should let staff work from home while still operating, says Chan Chun Sing

Measures to curb virus spread aimed at closing premises, not businesses

The Manpower Ministry advised employers to plan and carry out duties or tasks that must be performed at the workplace premises. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Companies that can operate with all their employees working from home should continue to do so, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing yesterday, stressing that the stringent measures announced to contain the coronavirus outbreak are meant to close premises, not businesses.

"Our measures are aimed at minimising transmission at workplaces and significantly reducing the need to commute to and from our workplaces," he said at a press conference after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's address announcing that only the workplaces of those considered essential services or key economic sectors will be allowed to open from next Tuesday.

"I want to emphasise that this is not about business closure. This is about closing the premises for the duration in order for us to adopt the enhanced safe-distancing measures," said Mr Chan. "This distinction is important because many businesses will still be able to operate."

Under the new rules, food establishments - including wet markets, hawker centres, foodcourts and restaurants - will remain open from next Tuesday.

Exemptions will also be made for businesses that are part of the food supply chain, such as importers, cold store operators, food safety testers and food manufacturers.

Other stores that will remain open are those needed to support people's daily living needs, such as supermarkets and pharmacies.

For the others, closures are planned to last till May 4, though they may be extended if necessary.

The Manpower Ministry said the requirement for companies to implement work from home arrangements over the past week has already resulted in significantly lower human traffic in the business districts. And it noted that many companies were able to adjust to operating with a remote workforce.

It advised employers to use the next few days to plan and carry out duties or tasks that must be performed at the workplace premises, noting that it will begin enforcement operations from next Tuesday. It added that employers should work out clear salary and leave arrangements for employees who cannot work from home or at their workplace premises.

Such arrangements should be based on the principle of shared responsibility and take into consideration the government support for wages and any subsidies for training, it said.

In a separate statement, the Health Ministry said the public service will be fully operational and government services will continue to be available, although most public servants will telecommute.

Physical counter services will be scaled down and the number of staff manning these counters will also be reduced. The list of essential services allowed to operate from next Tuesday can be found at this website.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: Firms should let staff work from home while still operating, says Chan Chun Sing. Subscribe