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No group lunch breaks, birthday celebrations when employees return to work from June 2: MOM

SINGAPORE — Although circuit breaker rules will be eased from June 2, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has asked employees returning to workplaces to minimise socialising as it warned that group lunch breaks and birthday celebrations are disallowed.

No group lunch breaks, birthday celebrations when employees return to work from June 2: MOM

The Manpower Ministry's updated guidelines for workplaces are aimed at cutting the risk of coronavirus transmission in the community.

SINGAPORE — Although circuit breaker rules will be eased from June 2, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has asked employees returning to workplaces to minimise socialising as it warned that group lunch breaks and birthday celebrations are disallowed.

These updated measures released on Friday (May 29) are aimed at cutting the risk of coronavirus transmission in the community, as Singapore exits its eight-week circuit breaker. 

The circuit breaker, which started on April 7, shut schools and non-essential workplaces to stem the spread of Covid-19. It also upended social activities, as people from different households are prohibited from meeting. 

Last week, the Government announced that Singapore would reopen its economy in three stages.

The first phase will see economic activities that do not pose a high risk of transmission, such as manufacturing, resuming. In the second phase, virtually the entire economy would be re-opened and some small-group activities will resume.

The last phase has been described as a state in which Singapore can expect to remain until an effective vaccine or treatment for Covid-19 is developed. By this time, social, cultural, religious and business gatherings or events would have resumed, although gathering sizes would still have to be limited in order to prevent large clusters from arising. 

Even as some workers return to work, MOM said that workplaces would still have to roll out safe management practices.  

For workers unable to work from home, companies must ensure that they minimise socialising. “All social gatherings, for example birthday celebrations (and) team-bonding activities, at the workplace must be cancelled or deferred,” the ministry said. 

Employers must also ensure that workers do not socialise with one another or congregate, including during meals or breaks. There should be no gatherings outside the workplace, too. 

MOM said that government agencies, such as the Building and Construction Authority and trade agency Enterprise Singapore, would step up enforcement and act against errant employers. Penalties may include stop-work orders and fines. 

The ministry said companies resuming operations in the first and second phases should:  

  • Allow work-from-home as “the default”. Employees who have been working from home must continue doing so and go to the office only if there is no other option

  • Review work processes and provide the necessary technological equipment for workers unable to work from home

  • Continue holding online meetings as far as possible

  • Cancel or postpone events that entail close or prolonged contact, such as conferences, seminars and exhibitions

  • Pay special attention to vulnerable workers, such as those who are older, pregnant or have medical conditions

For workers whose roles do not allow them to work from home, companies need to:

  • Stagger working and break hours to reduce possible congregation at common spaces, such as pantries and canteens. Working hours must be staggered into at least three different times, with no more than half the employees working within each block. Firms unable to stagger working hours must find other ways to prevent workers congregating at common spaces, such as arranging for different groups of staff to enter and exit through various doors

  • Arrange working hours such that employees can avoid travelling on public transport at peak periods 

  • Roll out shift or split-team arrangements, with one team restricted to one site. Employees in different teams are not allowed to interact with one another, even away from work

  • Stop workers from socialising or congregating in groups during meals or breaks

  • Cancel or postpone all social gatherings at workplaces, such as birthday celebrations and team-bonding activities

  • Stop all social gatherings outside the workplace and remind members of staff not to engage in these activities 

  • Ensure all employees wear masks at the workplace. Firms must also have enough masks for all workers 

  • Use the SafeEntry digital check-in and check-out system. Those who are unwell will be refused entry

  • Ensure staff are 1m apart at all times by demarcating common spaces, such as having barriers between workstations 

  • Stagger delivery times for different suppliers 

  • Increase the cleaning of workplaces

  • Provide soap and toilet paper at all restrooms and hand-washing stations

  • Provide hand sanitiser in places such as reception areas, lift lobbies and entrances 

Companies must also monitor the health of workers. They need to: 

  • Ensure regular checks for temperature and respiratory symptoms on-site twice daily

  • Encourage employees to download and activate the TraceTogether contact-tracing mobile application

  • Require employees to monitor their health before returning to the workplace if they are unwell

  • Prepare an evacuation plan for unwell workers or suspected Covid-19 patients. This includes requiring those who are ill to leave the workplace and see a doctor immediately, and tracking and recording such cases 

  • Have a follow-up plan if there is a confirmed Covid-19 patient, such as emptying or cordoning off areas where he or she worked, and thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting exposed areas. Work sites with confirmed cases could have their business suspended for public health reasons

For their part, employees who are unwell must: 

  • Submit medical certificates to their employers and the diagnoses given if they show symptoms related to Covid-19. They must also indicate if they were tested for Covid-19 and provide the test results

  • Visit only one clinic for check-ups 

Separately, MOM on Friday also updated its advisory on transport arrangements that employers provide.

From June 2, employers, transport providers and drivers must ensure these measures are in place when ferrying workers in vehicles such as private buses, vans and lorries:

  • All workers must wear a mask at all times 

  • They should not talk or interact with one another 

  • In a lorry or van, the clear floor space of the deck available for each seated passenger shall not be less than 0.496 sqm. This will mean a 25 per cent reduction in the passenger capacity allowed for each lorry or van

  • Employers must also arrange for private transport to move workers in dormitories to and from their workplaces, with no other passengers

In response to the latest advisory, the Singapore Contractors Association Limited said the new rules were a “more practical approach that takes into consideration similar safe-distancing requirements on public transport” than the 1m distancing rule in place during the circuit breaker.  

“Although this new rule reduces the passenger capacity on lorries and vans by 25 per cent, we agree that it is needed to ensure the safety of workers and the community,” it said.

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