Singapore's enhanced social distancing measures kicked in last week in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19. In line with the additional measures, which will see more employees having reduced work hours, in the last 24 hours, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Ministry of Finance (MOF), Ministry of Law (MOL), and Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) came up with several advisories and legal updates.
This includes guidelines on supporting employees with a second job arrangement, a reminder on telecommuting, upcoming legal certainty on holding of meetings, and support for individuals and SMEs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Read the full updates below.
MOM: When reducing work hours, employers should support employees to take on a second job where needed
In response to COVID-19, MOM advised employers to support affected employees during this period to take on a second job such as part-time or temporary work, waive contractual prohibitions against taking on a second job, and help employees resolve conflicts of interest where possible.
Employees can take on a second job, unless there are:
- Prohibitions in their current employment contract from taking on other forms of work; and/or
- Conflict of interest with their current employment.
If one or both of the abovementioned are present, and the employee still wishes to take up a second job to supplement their reduced income, the employee should discuss and clarify with both employers should there be conflict of interest or conflict in work scheduling.
Employers should be considerate and supportive and are encouraged to waive contractual prohibitions against taking on a second job and help employees resolve conflicts of interest where possible given that they initiated the reduced work hours and reduced salaries to save costs.
Whereas, employees should ensure that they are able to take on both jobs without compromising the interests of each employer and be transparent in terms of the requirements of both jobs to their employers. This would help to prevent downstream disputes over work schedules, salaries and other employment benefits.
The guide also underlined key principles on sharing responsibilities between first and second employer.
If you are the first employer you are responsible for salaries, CPF contributions, as well as statutory and contractual benefits for the period employees are scheduled to work for you. All these may be pro-rated based on the reduced work hours.
The first employer is not responsible for any contractual or statutory obligations for the period when employees are working for their second employer.
If you are the second employer, for the period when employees are scheduled to work for you, you are responsible for fulfilling the key terms and conditions specified in the employment contract.
The second employer is encouraged to provide employees with sick leave entitlement and medical benefits even though the employment duration may be less than three months.
The second employer should note that under the Employment Act, employees who have worked for three months or more are entitled to paid outpatient sick leave and paid hospitalisation leave.
Josephine Teo: Fines and other penalties for companies that do not allow telecommuting wherever possible
In a press conference yesterday, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said MOM is looking at levelling fines and other penalties on such companies, who do not arrange for flexible work arrangements that might help to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
According to CNA, who attended the video press conference held by the multi-ministry task force, the Government will, however, take a measured approach to this by looking first at the firm's specific circumstances.
“If the company is really not taking it seriously at all, then we have no choice and will not hesitate to issue a stop-work order,” she said, adding that the duration of such an order would depend on factors such as the severity of the case.
While the public sector is taking the lead (with some agencies having up to 90% of their staff telecommuting), and 80% of workers were telecommuting at some private companies; MOM estimated that for companies in the Central Business District, only 40% of workers were telecommuting.
“So there is a lot of scope for us to do more, especially the private sector firms. I want to emphasise this, employers must allow your employees to work from home, as far as reasonably practicable,” Teo said.
She added that companies in certain sectors, such as manufacturing, that may not necessarily be able to implement work-from-home arrangements should implement safe distancing measures for their staff when interacting with others, including external parties such as customers or vendors. Companies should also introduce staggered working hours, such that staff arrive and leave work at different times.
The minister said that MOM plans to have more than 100 officers check on companies who have not implemented flexible work arrangements, a five-fold increase from the current figure.
MOM would also look into enhancing the Work-Life Grant, which provides companies with up to S$70,000 over two years to offer staff flexible work arrangements such as working from home.
“Companies that need help implementing telecommuting can approach the Singapore Manufacturing Federation, the Employment and Employability Institute or the Singapore National Employers Federation for assistance on how to do so,” she said.
New legislation to be introduced next week to provide legal certainty on the holding of meetings
On 27 March 2020, the Infectious Diseases (Measures to Prevent Spread of COVID-19) Regulations 2020 (Regulations) came into force.
Under the Regulations, certain activities and events (e.g. conventions) are prohibited altogether while attendance for non-prohibited events (including meetings and gatherings) is limited to 10 individuals. Safe distancing measures were also imposed for events held in public places.
All meetings must be held in accordance with the prevailing Regulations issued to implement safe distancing measures.
A joint press release by MOF and MOL noted that the Government is aware that certain provisions in written law and certain legal instruments (such as a company’s constitution) provide for personal attendance at meetings.
To provide clarity on how to comply with both those provisions and the Regulations, the Government will introduce new legislation at the next sitting of Parliament (on or about 7 April 2020) (Proposed Provisions) to provide legal certainty on the holding of such meetings.
Subject to Parliament’s approval, the Proposed Provisions will:
- Allow alternative arrangements to be prescribed where:
- Personal attendance at a meeting or class of meetings is provided for in any written law or legal instrument; and
- It is not suitable or not possible for the meeting or class of meetings to be convened, held or conducted in the manner provided for in the written law or legal instrument, in view of the prevailing Regulations; and
- Provide that meetings held or deferred, on or after 27 March 2020, in accordance with the prescribed alternative arrangements will be deemed to satisfy the relevant requirements under written law or legal instrument, despite anything to the contrary in any law or legal instrument.
If passed, the Proposed Provisions are intended to be brought into force as soon as possible.
In the meantime, entities that are planning to conduct meetings and are uncertain about how to comply with the prevailing safe distancing measures without contravening provisions in written law or legal instruments should approach the respective regulators for guidance on how the meeting should be conducted.
Meetings should minimally adopt the following:
- Allow and strongly encourage attendance at meetings using tele-conferencing, video-conferencing, or other electronic means;
- Allow meeting attendees to appoint their proxies using electronic means, such as by e-mail;
- Allow meeting attendees with rights to participate, to exercise these rights to the extent possible and appropriate, such as by allowing questions to be submitted by e-mail in advance, and responses to be conveyed by tele-conferencing, video-conferencing, or other electronic means;
- If voting is required, strongly encourage meeting attendees to vote by proxy, or (if available) by electronic modes of voting; and
- Provide meeting attendees with access to meeting materials.
New measures to help SMEs facing temporary cashflow difficulties
The MAS, together with the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS), the Life Insurance Association (LIA), the General Insurance Association (GIA), and the Finance Houses Association of Singapore (FHAS), yesterday announced a package of measures to help ease the financial strain on individuals and SMEs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The package of financial measures complements the initiatives in the Government’s Unity Budget and Resilience Budget to preserve jobs and support enterprises and households.
The package has three components:
- Help individuals meet their loan and insurance commitments;
- Support SMEs with continued access to bank credit and insurance cover; and
- Ensure interbank funding markets remain liquid and well-functioning.
The relief for individuals and SMEs will be provided on an opt-in basis and the financial institutions will process all applications expeditiously. MAS cautions that deferring payments increases future obligations and advises borrowers and policyholders to weigh their options carefully.
Zooming in on the measures for SMEs, Banks and finance companies in Singapore have committed to help ease the financial strain on SMEs arising from the need to make principal repayments on their loans during this period, in view of the temporary cashflow constraints that many may face.
Three key areas SMEs will receive help on are:
#1 Defer payment of principal on secured SME loans
SMEs may opt to defer principal payments on their secured term loans up to 31 December 2020, subject to banks’ and finance companies’ assessment of the quality of the SMEs’ security. SMEs will also be able to extend the tenure of their loans by up to the corresponding principal deferment period if they wish. This relief will be available to SMEs that continue to pay interest and are in good standing with their banks and finance companies (not more than 90 days past due as of 6 April 2020).
It is estimated that more than S$40 billion of existing loan facilities to SMEs will likely qualify for this opt-in relief scheme. Besides secured term loans, banks and finance companies also stand ready to work with SME customers to adjust their loan repayment schedules for other types of loan facilities.
#2 Lower interest on SME loans
Banks and finance companies may apply for low-cost funding through a new MAS SGD Facility for loans granted under Enterprise Singapore’s SME Working Capital Loan scheme and Temporary Bridging Loan Programme. Banks and finance companies can apply for these funds until end December 2020, provided they commit to pass on the savings in funding cost to their SME borrowers.
This initiative will potentially lower the interest rates charged to eligible SME borrowers. Details will be provided at a later date.
#3 Assistance with insurance premium payment
Corporates, including SMEs, holding general insurance policies that protect their business and property risks may apply to their insurer for instalment payment plans. General insurance companies stand ready to work with their corporate customers so they can pay their premiums in smaller amounts and enjoy coverage for the paid-up period, instead of paying a lump sum premium for the entire policy period at the start.
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