Bosses should be fair during virus crisis, people should go back to spending: Josephine Teo

MANPOWER Minister Josephine Teo has called on employers to be fair and open with workers even as companies here take a hit from the impact of the global Covid-19 outbreak.

Singaporeans must also be encouraged to return to life as usual, to lessen the economic blow to businesses, she told reporters in an interview on Tuesday.

With the crisis expected to take its toll on the economy in the first three months, if not longer, the government has rolled out aid that includes a S$4 billion Stabilisation and Support Package in last week's Budget.

"But from the Ministry of Manpower's perspective, our thinking is that, however the company thinks about its response, the correct thing to do is be open about it with their own employees," Mrs Teo said, while on a tour of local transport engineering company Wong Fong.

She was replying to a question about reports that national carrier Singapore Airlines may ask staff to go on no-pay leave, as it deals with excess manpower from multiple rounds of flight cuts.

"In many of the companies, they also have unions," Mrs Teo added. "The right thing to do is to have a discussion with the unions, and plan out a course of action that is both fair to the workers, as well as helpful to the company's efforts to try and manage this current situation."

Speaking to reporters, Mrs Teo cited both measures that the Ministry of Manpower has taken to minimise the spread of the Sars-2 coronavirus, and help companies to cope.

The latest move, also announced on Tuesday, will allow Chinese work permit holders to switch employers within the manufacturing or services sector without having to first return home.

But, to a separate question on whether Singapore could relax its tightened foreign worker quotas to alleviate any manpower pinch, Mrs Teo said that cash flow issues are the policy priority.

"If you look at the businesses, what they are really having to deal with now, a lot of it has to do with cash flow issues," she said.

"A lot of it has to do with a return of confidence, so that people start to consume, people start to shop, people start to get back to the normal course of activities that they have always been engaged in. So I think that is the priority right now."

Mrs Teo also noted that the bulk of the Budget's multibillion-dollar Stabilisation and Support Package will go towards protecting jobs.

The package includes a S$1.3 billion jobs support scheme to cover part of local workers' wages, as well as a S$1.1 billion enhancement to the wage credit scheme to raise productivity.

"A lot of it goes to the jobs front, because individuals have to feel confident about their normal daily activities, so that's what the focus is on," she said. "But certainly, we are continuing to monitor the situation."