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Singapore’s “Circuit Breaker” and New Regulations What It Means for Employers

The “Circuit Breaker”

On 3 April 2020, the Singapore government has stepped up with stricter measures, which will take effect from 7 April 2020 to 4 May 2020 (the “Circuit Breaker Period”). This period may be extended upon the government’s further decision on the containment of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Major changes include the suspension of activities at workplaces, except those that are in the essential service lines, which includes healthcare and social services, food, energy, water, transportation and logistics, information and communications, manufacturing and distribution, banking and finance and defense. See the full list of Essential Services here.

If employers are in doubt of whether their business is in the Essential Services, contact Enterprise Infoline at +65 6898 1800 for clarifications.

If your Company is in the Essential Services

Do note that if a company’s activities are considered essential services, it is still required to submit a declaration under “General Exemption” on this website, latest by 13 April 2020. The government has said that it will respond within 48 hours from the date of submission.

During this period (before 13 April), the company that has submitted its declaration can still continue with operations with the appropriate safe distancing measures in place at its workplace, until they are told otherwise.

What about Businesses NOT in the Essential Services?

Companies whose businesses are not Essential Services can continue to run if staff can work from home. All other business activities that cannot be conducted through work from home arrangements have to be suspended during the Circuit Breaker Period.

As a general rule, companies are not allowed to enter or operate from their workplace premises.  However, companies may submit for two exemption applications, as stated below, to continue to operate in their workplace premises, upon approval.

However, a company may submit

  1. an “Application for exemption from suspension of business activities” via the above-mentioned website to be generally exempted from the suspension during the Circuit Breaker Period (“General Exemption”); or
  1. a time-limited “Applying for exemption for a limited period of time” via the same website, to be exempted from the suspension for a limited period of time during the Circuit Breaker Period (“Time Limited Exemption”).

What Rules still prevail during this period?

Simply, those who need to carry out work at workplace premises, still need to abide by the Infectious Diseases (Workplace Measures to Prevent Spread of COVID-19) Regulations 2020 (the “Regulations”), which applies from 2nd to 30th April 2020.

The Regulations aim to curb the spread of COVID-19 by requiring employers to implement telecommuting and safe distancing measures, where as much as possible.

Key Takeaway of the Regulations

Employers or principals must implement telecommuting

  1. Every employer or principal must direct their employees (includes volunteers, interns and trainees), contractors, subcontractors (“Workers”) to work from home and provide the necessary facilities, unless it is not reasonably practicable.

Employers or principals must implement safe distancing measures (in the case where Workers are required to be at the workplace)

  1. Place Workers in 2 or more groups (i.e., split teams)
  2. 1-metre rule between any two individuals (seats, pantry, waiting room or changing room, etc.)
  3. Ensure Workers do not arrive at or leave at the same time.
  4. Tell Workers who are physically unwell to immediately inform them. Employer or principal must not allow him/ her to enter any workplace.
  5. Employers must not permit employees who are subject to movement control measures (i.e., Stay Home Notices or Quarantine Orders) to enter the workplace.

Employers must cancel or postpone organised activities involving face-to-face interactions, except for the following:

  1. If the activity is critical to the operations of the organization;
  2. Workers are provided professional or vocational training or are tested or certified for any professional or vocational purposes; or
  3. Workers are provided education by an educational institution.

Singapore’s Strict Enforcements

Persons who breach any part of the above said Regulations without valid excuse, shall be convicted to a fine not exceeding S$10,000 and/or jailed a maximum of six months.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has conducted more than 850 workplace inspections since 23 March. As of 2 April 2020, MOM has issued 129 stop-work orders (SWO) and 260 remedial orders to companies that were found to neglect safe distancing measures.

Stop-work orders require companies to stop operations until they rectify their processes. Under remedial orders, workplaces must take corrective action but are allowed to continue their activities.

More than 2,000 Safe Distancing and SG Clean Ambassadors, and enforcement officers were sent to HDB estates across the island from the Circuit Breaker Period on 7 April 2020.

As of 8 April 2020, a total of 10,000 written advisories have been issued since the elevated safe distancing measures kicked in, according to the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR).

There were more than 7,000 written advisories issued on the first day the Circuit Breaker Period, and more than 3,000 written advisories issued even after the second day.

The majority of these were employers in the F&B sectors running at hawker centres, markets and across Housing and Development Board (HDB) public spaces.

Under the new Bill, as explained below, first time offenders can be fined up to S$10,000 or imprisoned up to 6 months, or both. The penalty for second or subsequent offences is a fine of up to S$20,000 or imprisonment of up to 12 months, or both.

List of Factories and Work-sites issued with SWO in the period 1 January 2020 to 29 March 2020 can be found here.

COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Regulations 2020

In addition to the “Circuit Breaker” regulations, the COVID (Temporary Measures) Act was passed by Parliament on 7 April 2020, and is effective from 7 April 2020 to 4 May 2020. The government will review these measures and may choose to extend or adjust them if needed.

Under this Act, Singapore’s Minister of Health may make any regulations (called “control orders”) for the purpose of preventing, protecting against, delaying or otherwise controlling the incidence or transmission of COVID-19 in Singapore. The Bill will be valid for six months, with the Minister for Law given power to extend it for up to a year.

The new measures include banning of any private parties or gatherings of any size, in both private and public spaces such as parks and the void desks of public housing estates, etc.

What’s Allowed?

In summary, the Act lists only 12 situations an individual may leave his or her home, as well as anything reasonably connected with the items on the list. These are:

  1. To work for or with an essential service provider, a specified school or an early childhood development centre
  2. To procure any goods or services from an essential service provider or a specified school
  3. To obtain —
    1. medical treatment for a suspected Covid-19 infection at a hospital, medical clinic or any other place, designated by the Director for the treatment of Covid-19; or
    2. medical treatment that is of a pressing nature
  1. To engage in any recreational activity in an open-air stadium, public path or public park alone or with any other individual who lives with you.
  2. where an individual works for or with an essential service provider, to bring the individual’s child or children to a place where the child or children are to be cared for.
  3. To assist any individual who has a physical or mental disability, or is below 12 years of age or above 60 years of age, with his or her daily needs.
  4. To report for enlistment or service under the Enlistment Act.
  5. To report to any law enforcement officer or to attend at any court in accordance with any warrant, summons or order made under any written law or order of a court.
  6. To be present at any place in accordance with a requirement under any written law.
  7. To seek or render help in an emergency.
  8. To move to another place of accommodation.
  9. To leave Singapore.

The Act will also allow the health minister to hold the power to close premises such as workplaces, schools, recreational facilities and places of worship, as well as to take action against individuals, business owners and companies which fail to abide any regulations.

Please contact GPC if you have any questions and our consultants will be more than happy to assist you.