Coronavirus pandemic

Setting up safe management measures will pay off for firms: Chan

Prima Limited deputy plant manager Steve Ang describing the packing process to Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing (second from right), with Prima chairman and group CEO Primus Cheng (right) looking on, at the company's flour mill in Keppel Ro
Prima Limited deputy plant manager Steve Ang describing the packing process to Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing (second from right), with Prima chairman and group CEO Primus Cheng (right) looking on, at the company's flour mill in Keppel Road yesterday. The new packing machine pictured was installed in April to meet a surge in demand for flour from households during the circuit breaker. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Implementing safe management measures at the workplace will incur some added cost and inconvenience for businesses, but it will pay off in the long run and speed up the reopening of the rest of the economy, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

Allowing employees who can do so to continue working from home will minimise their risk of exposure to the coronavirus and thus provide more stability for employers, Mr Chan told reporters after a tour of food firm Prima Limited's flour-milling factory.

He acknowledged that some companies have given feedback that complying with the rules has increased operating costs, such as in cleaning expenses and costs associated with remote working needs.

"There will be some measures that require a bit of money, but take it as a long-term investment whereby it's going to strengthen the competitive position of the respective companies and ensure business continuity," he said.

This will reap rewards for companies in the long run, Mr Chan stressed.

Citing Prima, which exports flour to countries like Japan, as an example, he said: "When they can provide the continuity of services to their overseas markets, especially in times like this where many supply chains are disrupted, it becomes a cost advantage."

Companies with more progressive practices such as the flexibility to work from home will be better able to attract and retain talent, he said.

Thus, businesses should put the necessary measures in place in their own interest, and not out of fear of being penalised, he said.

"It is not about meeting somebody else's rules and regulations... It is about the company wanting to take the responsibility to make sure that their workers are safe and their business is not disrupted."

All workplaces allowed to operate are required to put safe management measures in place to prevent the transmission of the virus, including staggered shifts and break times and using the SafeEntry app for contact tracing.

Three businesses were ordered to shut earlier this week after inspections found that they had failed to meet these requirements, such as by instructing employees to return to the office instead of allowing them to work from home.

The more people that work from home, the greater the scope is for the Government to allow businesses that remain shut to reopen, Mr Chan said.

Singapore entered the first of a three-stage reopening of its economy on Tuesday after a two-month circuit breaker. In Phase 1, which is expected to last several weeks, businesses that operate in settings with lower transmission risks are allowed to resume activities.

However, workers should return to the workplace only if necessary, such as to use specialised equipment, according to guidelines by the Manpower Ministry.

Mr Chan noted that some workers have complained of being forced by their bosses to return to the workplace despite being able to carry out their duties from home.

The minister said firms that behave selfishly by requesting employees to return to the workplace unnecessarily may slow the easing of restrictions.

Such companies would be doing a disservice to those which have not yet been able to restart their operations, he said.

Prima's general manager Steven Yeo said that the safe management measures have taken some getting used to, though the costs to implement them have not been significant as the food manufacturer already had strict hygiene standards in place.

To prevent workers from different shifts from interacting, the company has staggered shifts by an hour, resulting in shorter working hours. This has not affected operations, said Mr Yeo.

A new packing machine was installed in April to meet a surge in demand for flour from households during the circuit breaker.

Sales of household packs last month were 3.5 times the average monthly sales last year, an unprecedented increase, Mr Yeo said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2020, with the headline Setting up safe management measures will pay off for firms: Chan. Subscribe