SINGAPORE — National Development Minister Lawrence Wong announced on Thursday (Feb 6) that all workers returning to Singapore from China are being mandated to take a 14-day leave of absence (LOA) upon their return. Employers are being asked to coordinate with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) before the employees from China arrive.

The multi-ministry task force handling Singapore’s response to the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) announced that these measures will allow MOM to stagger and manage the influx of workers returning from China.

Mandatory Leave of Absence (LOA)

Mr Wong stressed the importance for all returning workers—Singapore residents and foreign work pass holders alike—to follow the mandatory 14-day leave of absence rule. He noted that authorities would be monitoring and enforcing the LOA very strictly.

Each employer will also receive S$100 a day as compensation for each worker serving their LOA (equivalent to what they receive for those under quarantine order). This applies to all employees, including Singaporeans, permanent residents and work pass holders. For those on LOA, the foreign worker levy will also be waived for the time being.

“The businesses are equally affected [and] projects are being delayed,” Mr Wong said on the sidelines of a visit to a foreign worker’s dormitory at Tuas. “So we’ve heard the concerns of employers.”

The task force will soon announce when these new measures will take effect, as details are still being discussed and organised among involved government agencies.

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Employee accommodation

Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), there have many incidents of landlords evicting tenants, for fear of infection or contamination.

Regarding this issue, Mr Wong noted that the Government will coordinate with dormitory operators to provide accommodation for workers who need to serve their mandatory LOA.

On Thursday (Feb 6), Mr Wong, along with Minister of Manpower Josephine Teo, visited the Tuas View Dormitory to speak with operators and inspect the dormitory’s prepared isolation room and its LOA facility that has 32 beds. The dormitory will also shoulder basic necessities for the workers, such as food and water during their LOA period.

When reporters asked how many returning workers were unable to find places to stay, Mr Wong did not give a number but said it was “quite few”.

He also noted that the government would need to iron out more details regarding the mandatory LOAs in the days to come.

“We already have very strict surveillance measures when it comes to quarantine, whether it is through phone calls, spot checks, video calls and we can make use of similar technologies and measures for monitoring and surveillance,” he said.

Workers or employers who do not observe the proper mandatory LOA period will be penalised, possibly with suspensions of work permits or the like.

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In the same vein, the government will also penalise errant landlords who evict tenants on LOA or home quarantine just because of their nationality. Some of the penalties include not allowing their addresses to be used for future work pass applications and barring them from renting to foreign work pass holders.

Status of returning work pass holders

MOM Minister Josephine Teo was asked by reporters for updates on the roughly 30,000 Chinese nationals who are work pass holders that went to China for the Chinese New Year and have since not returned.

Ms Teo noted that while some have returned, may are still not back in the country.

“That’s why it’s important for us to get in touch with the employers,” said Ms Teo. “Depending on their own business needs, they may not all want to bring back their workers.”

Last Saturday (Feb 1), the government issued wider travel restrictions on those with a recent travel history to China, which included an LOA for 14 days for returning Singapore residents and long-term pass holders. /TISG