Coronavirus: Govt to support those hit by workplace closures

First announced in February's Budget speech, the Jobs Support Scheme subsidises a share of the wages paid to local workers, to help companies retain them. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Workers should not worry if their workplaces are closed as the Government will help to make sure they continue to get paid, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo yesterday.

She gave this assurance at a press conference after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that most workplaces would need to close for a month from next Tuesday, apart from those in key economic sectors and essential services, as part of sweeping measures to curb the spike in coronavirus cases here.

Mrs Teo said that if a business is still operating fully, its employees should continue to get paid.

"But there are also instances where business operations must be reduced or ceased," she noted.

To address this issue, the ministries of Trade and Industry, Manpower and Finance are working closely to enhance the Jobs Support Scheme, she said, adding that Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat will share details next week.

First announced by Mr Heng in February's Budget speech, the scheme subsidises a share of the wages paid to local workers, to help companies retain them.

After the scheme was enhanced under the supplementary budget last month, firms will get wage subsidies of between 25 per cent and 75 per cent, depending on the sector, up from 8 per cent previously.

The support will apply to the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages per local employee, up from the original $3,600.

The duration of the help was also increased from three months to nine months, till the end of the year.

Mrs Teo said the Government will also consider waiving foreign worker levies so that businesses can retain some of these workers and restart smoothly.

"In the past, the Government has said 'no' to waiving foreign worker levies. But the next four weeks are exceptional, so we will look into it," said Mrs Teo, referring to how the latest social distancing measures will be in place till May 4.

The Government will consider if employers need temporary help to ensure they have "the essential workforce to restart", she said.

"We appreciate that employers and workers will be making many adjustments. Quite a few have already made the switch for their staff to work from home," she added.

For other employers, the Government will do whatever it can to support them as they figure out how to respond to the changing situation, she said.

A top priority is for employers to communicate properly and clearly with employees on work arrangements for the next few weeks, said Mrs Teo, as well as how colleagues can keep in touch with one another to provide mutual support.

"We hope employers can focus on that," she said.

Employers who need to clarify anything can call the Manpower Ministry on 6438-5122, which will be kept open through the weekend.

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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: Govt to support those hit by workplace closures. Subscribe