Employers gear up to tackle manpower issues

Employers are taking steps to comply with new measures targeting workers who were recently in China as part of wider efforts to contain the Wuhan virus. Some firms are bracing themselves for disruption to daily operations as some affected workers could be in front-line roles that cannot be fulfilled remotely.

The authorities said on Friday that Singaporeans, permanent residents, long-term pass holders and work pass holders returning from China will be placed on a leave of absence of 14 days.

They should stay at home and avoid crowded places and social or public gatherings.

Mr Patrick Fiat, general manager of Royal Plaza on Scotts hotel, said three Chinese housekeeping attendants had returned to China for the New Year holidays while three cancelled travel plans to the mainland due to the virus outbreak. The three in China are in Jiangsu, Henan and Jilin provinces.

When they return, they will be put on 14 days' compulsory paid leave.

"They are not required to perform duties as their job scope requires their presence. Our team members are working overtime to cope with the manpower shortage," said Mr Fiat.

The hotel has also hired part-timers to help out, he added.

Six employees of Shanghai Pudong Development Bank (SPD Bank) returned from China at the weekend. Three are work pass holders and three are Singaporeans and PRs. None is from Hubei province, said Mr Rickson Pang, head of human resources and administration at the bank's Singapore branch.

They will be placed on leave of absence with work carried out via platforms such as conference calls and e-mail.

"All staff will still be able to carry out their work functions, although they may not be as effective or efficient as they would be when they are in the office," said Mr Pang.

Those on leave of absence will not be allowed into the office. "Should they need stuff from the office, we will arrange for delivery to their homes. All of them are required to wear masks during transfer and receipt," added Mr Pang.

A spokesman for DBS Bank said about 50 employees - Singaporeans, PRs and long-term work pass holders - will be returning from China. "Given our people have remote access and telecommuting tools, anyone placed on a 14-day leave of absence is able to work from home seamlessly," he added.

A United Overseas Bank (UOB) spokesman said the bank has halted all business travel to mainland China across the group, including trips from Singapore.

Select Group, whose stable of brands includes Hong Kong Sheng Kee Dessert, has about 10 work pass holders from China due to return this week. They are mostly from Fujian and Shandong provinces.

"As they are in front-line roles such as service crew and kitchen staff, they can't work from home," said managing director Vincent Tan. "But the manpower situation is still manageable, as this makes up less than 1 per cent of our total headcount."

The group has more than 1,800 full-time and part-time employees.

Mr Hooi Yu Koh, chief executive of construction company Kori Holdings, said an engineer on a work pass from Jiangxi province returns to Singapore today. The employee will work from home and all communication will be done online or over the phone.

"There could be some disruption to our work because there are some things that are still more easily settled face to face, such as going through technical drawings and plans. But we can still manage," said Mr Hooi.

The firm, which has 300 staff, has two other Chinese employees who did not return home for the holiday.