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42 firms in Singapore fined for breaching Covid-19 safety rules


SINGAPORE - More firms have been penalised for failing to adhere to workplace safe management measures despite repeated calls to make working from home the default and to ensure safe distancing at the office.

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Between Sept 28 last year - when the measures were last eased - and Jan 15, there were 42 employers fined for such lapses, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) told The Straits Times.

The most common violations were firms getting their employees to report to the office although they could work from home, and for failing to put clear safe distancing markers in common areas at the workplace.

MOM fined the 42 companies after inspecting 5,380 workplaces.

This comes after the ministry imposed 52 fines of $1,000 each on errant employers in June last year, and ordered seven workplaces to shut for lapses.

In December, it had also launched an operation targeting the transport and storage sector in anticipation of increased activities due to the festive period.

While the vast majority of firms have been compliant, MOM said it will continue to step up inspections and highlight areas employers should pay attention to.

Workplace safe management measures, which include caps on the number of workers allowed back in offices, were put in place at the end of the circuit breaker period in June last year.

They were last eased on Sept 28 when more employees were allowed to return to the workplace.

Last month, the Singapore National Employers Federation, the National Trades Union Congress and MOM said working from home should remain the default arrangement to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission in offices.

The tripartite partners had reviewed workplace restrictions after Singapore moved to phase three of its reopening in December, but decided to hold off on any further adjustments.

They cited the risk of new Covid-19 strains, which could be more transmissible, as well as the recent uptick in virus cases in the community.

Of the four active clusters now, three have links to the workplace.

Companies in various sectors said they have got used to working remotely, although some differed on the extent to which such arrangements should continue post-pandemic.

Most suggested a hybrid model where staff can enjoy some flexibility.

For Wizlearn Technologies chief executive Victor Yuk, 45, the experience of having his entire workforce quarantined last year pushed him to fully adopt remote working.

The e-learning solutions firm was at the centre of a cluster of 14 cases in February last year, and all 90 employees have been telecommuting for the past 11 months.

The switch was not without challenges, with Mr Yuk losing five employees who were unable to adapt.

But productivity is higher now than before the pandemic, so most of his staff will continue telecommuting in the future, he said.

"There is no reason for me to expose all of them to unnecessary risk if they can continue to work and be productive," Mr Yuk added.

Mr Lim How Kiat, general manager of Ademco Security Group's Singapore operations, said employers who breach safe management measures could endanger the safety of their employees and the community at large.

"More often than not, the employers lack trust in their employees. That's why they call them back, which is totally unnecessary," said Mr Lim, 43.

While it was not easy implementing the safe management measures for Ademco's 190 employees, the firm has managed to adapt.

Still, Mr Lim said he would welcome having more employees back in the office, which has been missing its family-like culture.

Both UOB and DBS Bank have committed to giving their employees the flexibility to work remotely even after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

The two banks, as well as OCBC Bank, said those in the offices and bank branches were reminded to adhere to measures such as wearing a mask and keeping a safe distance from one another. The banks also conduct regular checks.

Ahead of Chinese New Year, UOB has warned its staff against hosting or encouraging workplace gatherings while OCBC's group corporate security head Francisco John Celio said the bank will not organise activities that might draw large crowds.

He said: "We are mindful that we are not out of the woods yet."

Published : February 01, 2021

By : Kok Yufeng The Straits Times/ANN