Employers urged to step up their business continuity plans

A bus driver having his temperature checked at the Woodlands Checkpoint on Feb 1, 2020. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

With Singapore raising its disease outbreak alert from "yellow" to "orange" over the coronavirus situation, employers should consider temperature checks, splitting staff into separate teams and letting staff work from home where possible.

These were among business continuity measures recommended by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) in a joint advisory as the nation shifted to the higher Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon).

The advisory yesterday said employers should step up business continuity plans and prepare for widespread community transmission. Such plans should be clearly explained to staff beforehand. Unionised employers should engage their unions early.

The plans could include separating staff into teams that can work at different places or times. Employees can also be cross-trained and have covering arrangements to minimise disruption.

Staff who can do so could be allowed to work from home, and employers could review work processes and procure the necessary equipment for flexible work arrangements, the advisory said.

Employers could also consider temperature screening for visitors or customers, and ask them to return another day if they are unwell. All employers should require their staff to check their temperature at least twice daily, check for respiratory symptoms, and those unwell should visit a doctor immediately.

MOM, NTUC and SNEF also urged employers to remind staff of the importance of good personal hygiene - for example, washing hands regularly.

Employees who are older, pregnant or have underlying medical conditions should be given special attention in planning their work, and should have less exposure to front-line work.

Employers should also support employees if they need to stay at home to take care of children, and should consider allowing them to work from home.

Those serving the mandatory 14-day leave of absence (LOA) can work from home, or if this is not possible, be given additional paid leave for the period.

Other options include allowing employees to use leave or no-pay leave, granting paid time off or having other mutually agreed arrangements. Workers on home quarantine will be deemed to be on paid hospitalisation leave.

Companies told The Straits Times they were rolling out these measures to ensure business can continue under the new Dorscon level. OCBC Bank said it will split its workers into teams at different locations. Its group brand and communications head Koh Ching Ching said the bank has distributed free face masks to staff, and hand sanitisers have been placed in offices and branches.

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Singtel's group chief human resources officer Aileen Tan said the company is ready to implement measures such as team segregation and home shifts if needed. It has already implemented visitor controls, social distancing and staff travel declarations.

Hong Leong Group said each company under the group has its own business continuity plans. The conglomerate operates banking and finance services, hotels and sales galleries, among other things.

If the current situation worsens, some staff will be asked to work from home or attend meetings via teleconferencing, its spokesman said.

For some firms, like IT services firm AIT Technologies, working from home may not be possible.

"We need to work with machines that we can't take home, so we won't be working remotely," said its director and chief executive Nick Lee. "Since Thursday, we have started doing temperature screenings three times a day. Life will still go on as normal, we don't want to be too paranoid about this situation yet."

Mr Hooi Yu Koh, chief executive of construction firm Kori Holdings, said its 300 workers have been taking their temperatures daily, and will step up continuity measures from today.

"We will work with the dormitory operators to see how workers from different project sites can be segregated so that those working in the east don't mix with those working in the west, for example."

Yesterday's advisory comes after the Government said on Thursday that it would work with dormitory operators to provide facilities if employers cannot find accommodation for returning workers, and would be stepping up monitoring of those serving the mandatory LOA. Employers will get $100 a day for each worker on LOA. The sum will also be given to the self-employed on LOA.

MOM said yesterday that employers must remain responsible for the "upkeep and accommodation of their foreign employees" under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.

• Additional reporting by Tee Zhuo

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2020, with the headline Employers urged to step up their business continuity plans. Subscribe