Firms worried about higher costs with safe distancing rules

Businesses are concerned about higher operating costs as they adjust to new safe distancing and precautionary measures amid the Covid-19 pandemic, MPs said yesterday, as they sought more support for affected firms.

Singapore Manufacturing Federation president Douglas Foo, a Nominated MP, highlighted that manufacturers are facing challenges such as increased cleaning expenses and costs associated with remote working needs like laptops and network servers, which are expected to be permanent additions to costs.

Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) also weighed in on the impact of safe distancing requirements on business costs during the debate on the supplementary Fortitude Budget.

Cost may be a factor for some businesses' poor implementation of safe management practices, said Mr Yong.

The measures that companies are required to implement involve employing additional staff to control access to premises and monitor temperatures, and increasing the number of trips to ferry workers due to safe distancing requirements. These add to their expenditure, he said.

Employers are also concerned about having to bear the cost of Covid-19 swab tests that some workers have to take, said Mr Yong, highlighting how nursing home and pre-school staff now have to go through such tests before returning to work.

In the construction sector, workers are also required to be tested once every two weeks.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) had said last month that the Government will waive the cost of swab tests for construction workers until August, for those involved in works resuming by then.

"Many businesses are already reeling from the increasing costs of putting in place the ever-evolving set of protective measures to keep workplaces safe... Coupled with a sharp decline in revenue, our businesses are hit with a double whammy," said Mr Yong.

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) called on the Government to absorb the cost of swab tests for the construction sector beyond August, or waive the requirement for such tests after that.

She also called for the construction sector to be given more support, including extending the foreign worker levy waiver until August.

The waiver will be 100 per cent in June and 50 per cent in July, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced last month.

But Ms Lee hopes that construction companies can receive a 100 per cent waiver until August. She said this is because most of them will not be able to resume operations until September or later.

Contractors need to fulfil numerous requirements, including in areas such as housing, before they can get approval from the BCA to resume work.

Mr Yong and Mr Foo also said that some safety and health measures at workplaces need to be fine-tuned.

Mr Foo appealed to policymakers to ensure that regulatory bodies have enough staff and resources so that approvals required for businesses to resume operations do not hinder efficiency.

Mr Yong said that employers and regulators should be mindful of the approach taken in setting out and implementing safe management measures so as not to compromise workers' safety.

For instance, in the construction and marine engineering sectors, wearing a mask could affect the ability of workers to carry out physically demanding work safely.

"Whichever the approach, safe management measures must not inadvertently cause poor safety at the workplace," said Mr Yong.