Coronavirus Singapore

Work from home to stay as default to lower office transmission risk

Tripartite partners issue update after review of safe management measures at workplace

Even with the current workplace safe management measures, peak-hour travel on public transport this month still increased by 11 per cent over travel in November last year, said the statement from the tripartite partners. Under current advisories, emp
Even with the current workplace safe management measures, peak-hour travel on public transport this month still increased by 11 per cent over travel in November last year, said the statement from the tripartite partners. Under current advisories, employers must implement flexible work hours so that at least half of all employees start work in the office at or after 10am.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Working from home should remain the default arrangement to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission at offices, the labour movement, employers' union and Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said yesterday.

The Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and MOM said they jointly reviewed whether there was a need to adjust safe management measures at the workplace after Singapore moved to phase three of its reopening last month, but decided it was safer to have people working from home.

"With the higher risk of potentially more transmissible strains as well as recent trends in Covid-19 cases in the community (including at workplaces), the tripartite partners have decided to postpone any further adjustments to workplace safe management measures," they said in a joint statement.

Their update comes amid a rise in the number of local Covid-19 cases, some of whom are currently unlinked and have led to the formation of community clusters arising from workplace interactions.

As at yesterday, the number of new cases in the community had increased from two cases the week before to 21 cases in the past week.

The tripartite partners also reminded companies not to organise gatherings and social activities such as lohei or Chinese New Year meals, as these are not work-related activities and would not be allowed.

The statement added that even with the current workplace safe management measures, peak-hour travel on public transport this month still increased by 11 per cent over travel in November last year.

Under current advisories, employers must implement flexible work hours so that at least half of all employees start work in the office at or after 10am, to avoid a peak-hour travel crush.

Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a Facebook post yesterday that Covid-19 has led to people using technology to work smarter "and demonstrated that even as more people return to office to work, the peak hour rush and crush is totally unnecessary".

He added: "Covid-19 is an op-portunity to shift our travel-ling habits."

Current guidelines also require employers to ensure that those whose jobs can be done from home continue to work from home for at least half of their working time. For example, someone with a six-day work week can be in the office for up to three days a week.

In addition, employers must ensure that no more than half of those who can work from home are in the office at any one time.

Meetings should also be held virtually as much as possible.

In yesterday's statement, the tripartite partners called on employers to implement staggered work hours more extensively.

"The public sector has contributed to this effort by enabling staff to adopt flexible workplace arrangements, such as hybrid working arrangements, flexible workplace hours and staggered start times," they added.

In his post, Mr Ong said the Transport Ministry is doing its part. Land Transport Authority officers can report to work at 7.30am or 10am, or work from home for at least 50 per cent of the time. The ministry too has similar practices.

"This spreads out the load on our buses, trains and roads. It makes rides safer and better," Mr Ong added.

The tripartite partners also said that the SNEF and NTUC will continue to consult closely with MOM to assess when further adjustments to safe management measures (SMM) can be made.

"While we understand the desire for more physical workplace interactions, we urge employers and employees to stay vigilant in the fight against Covid-19. The prevailing SMM requirements are vital to continue safe reopening for the economy," they said.

Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, told The Straits Times that the continuation of existing measures was prudent and necessary, given the Covid-19 situation.

He noted that businesses have become accustomed to work-from-home arrangements, although those requiring more face-to-face interaction with customers may be affected.

"The whole workforce and business ecosystem has adapted and is prepared to ensure vigilance over safe distancing measures, and everybody is quite mindful that... we will have to adhere to these restrictions to get over any blips or cluster outbreaks," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2021, with the headline 'Work from home to stay as default to lower office transmission risk'. Subscribe