manpower shortages, singapore employers, redeployment, redeploy, tripartite advisory

Redeployment, a policy on leave & salary arrangements, communications to service buyers, and more are some BCP measures employers are urged to undertake in the event of staff absences.

Given the sharp rise in COVID-19 Omicron cases in recent days, Singapore's Multi-Ministry Taskforce has called on employers, in particular those providing essential services, to prepare and be ready to implement their business continuity plans (BCPs), adhere strictly to safe management measures, and encourage employees to test themselves regularly, in tackling any possible workplace cases.

Following this, the tripartite partners have issued an advisory to provide employers with further guidance in planning and responding to potentially high levels of workforce absences.

The tripartite partners noted: "Through the past two years in dealing with the pandemic, most employers would have developed a comprehensive set of BCPs that allow them to continue business operations effectively, such as split teams and work-from-home arrangements. In particular, some employers had to temporarily suspend or scale back their business activities during the Circuit Breaker in 2020 or when their migrant workers’ movements were restricted in the dormitories.

"Especially with the present more transmissible Omicron wave, employers may face varying degrees of manpower shortages due to employees testing positive for COVID-19. As the majority of employees are vaccinated, many would be asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms. These employees can return to work with a negative Antigen Rapid Test (ART) result after 72 hours. This means that employers are more likely to see fluctuating, short-term absences, which may spike if there is workplace transmission."

In dealing with such short-term staff shortages, the tripartite partners have shared a series of measures employers could in reviewing their BCP:

  • Identify core capabilities critical to business operations - employees fulfilling these critical functions can be deployed in split teams to reduce risks of disruption to operations.
  • Train and identify other employees within the company who can be redeployed should the employees performing critical functions test positive for COVID-19.
  • Consider regular testing of employees who work on-site, especially those serving critical functions, to allow for early detection and isolation of positive COVID-19 cases to reduce workplace transmission among critical staff. Employees should also exercise self-responsibility and should not turn up for work when they are feeling unwell.
  • Maintain regular contact with employees who have contracted COVID-19 to keep track of their recovery and to facilitate those who test negative to return to work earlier.
  • Adhere to the Advisory on Requirements for Safe Management Measures at the workplace, including the steps to take when employees are infected with COVID-19.
  • Develop a company policy on leave and salary arrangements (e.g. provision of additional paid leave, consumption of paid sick leave, or annual leave), in consultation with unions where applicable, should the employer decide to temporarily suspend operations due to absence of employees critical to core business functions. Employers can refer to the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment (TAMEM) for recommended practices on leave and salary matters arising from business disruptions.
  • Identify the triggers for the various aspects of the BCP, depending on the level of staff absences for different segments of the workforce.
  • Prepare other resources that are required to activate the BCP, such as work-from-home equipment and channels to employ temporary help.
  • Prepare a communications plan to consumers or service buyers to seek their understanding towards delays in service delivery (if any).
  • Take guidance from advisories issued by the respective sector agencies (if any).

The tripartite partners urged both employers and employees to continue to work together as the nation continues to deal with this period of elevated daily cases.

"In some cases, this may mean that some employees would be requested to put in more hours to cover for the absence of their colleagues. Employees should support their employers in these difficult times to ensure business continuity; and employers should likewise show care and concern for the health and safety of their employees, recognise their sacrifices and contributions, and reward them accordingly."

The tripartite partners also called on the public to support all employees and employers," as they do their best to continue to deliver goods and services to the wider community despite temporary staff shortages."

Image / 123RF

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