COVID-19 has affected the lives of billions of people around the world, some more than others. As a highly connected country, Singapore and her people are not spared. Businesses such as airlines, event companies, tourism-related shops and F&B outlets have seen their revenue decline drastically, with no clarity on how much longer this health pandemic will continue to impact their businesses. Likewise, workers for these impacted businesses are also affected, with some retrenched and others having to take unpaid leaves.
On 3 April 2020, the Singapore government announced an elevated set of social distancing measures, as a ‘circuit breaker’ to stop the trend of increasing local transmission of COVID-19.
The most significant announcement is that unless considered essential, all workplaces have to be closed from 7 April to 4 May, with the possibility of an extension if needed. Schools and institutes of higher learning will also be closed during this period.
Given the unprecedented move to shut down workplaces, we look at the 5 hardest-hit group of workers who will be impacted most during this period.
#1 Malaysian Workers Working In Companies Deemed As Non-Essential
A couple of weeks ago, Malaysia announced a Movement Control Order (MCO) (i.e. partial lockdown), which essentially prevent Malaysian workers who were staying in Malaysia but working in Singapore to continue their daily commute to work.
Singapore businesses that had such workers were quick in responding, with companies helping to find temporary lodging for these affected workers. Even the Singapore government got involved, providing a generous $50 per day allowance for each affected worker, capped at 14 days, to help companies cover the cost of temporary housing.
The closure of non-essential workplaces cannot have come at a worse time for these Malaysian workers. For a start, the temporary housing subsidy provided by the Singapore government has ceased on 31 March, which means companies and their affected workers now need to bear the full cost of any temporary housing required.
Adding to that, non-essential businesses must be closed till 4 May 2020, which means that workers of these companies who had earlier decided to stay in Singapore so that they can continue working, are now unable to work in Singapore anyway. These workers are also unlikely to be able to work from home because if that was possible, they would not have to commute to Singapore each day anyway.
The companies that hire them now are also faced with the problems of:
1) Ensuring their temporary housing needs are taken care of
2) Deciding whether to continue paying their workers in light of workplace closure
3) Deciding if they should have their workers return back to Malaysia. Malaysians working in Singapore who wish to return to Malaysia during the movement control order (MCO) period are required to get a swab test in Singapore and present a letter or certificate to confirm he or she is free of COVID-19 at the entry point before being allowed to enter.
#2 Taxi Drivers
These underappreciated frontline workers are considered essential service providers, with many drivers plying the roads daily and providing point-to-point transport services for those needing them. They continue providing their services despite the low demand in recent months. Just go to any taxi stands these days and look at the queues.
Before ComfortDelGro announced that it will be waiving rental fees for one month amid the closure of non-essential workplaces and schools, many of these taxi drivers also continued having to pay daily rental for their cabs, on top of the fuel costs they incur driving around.
With the closure of non-essential workplaces and schools, and the government encouraging everyone to stay at home as much as possible, demand for taxis, which were already very low to begin with, is going to hit rock-bottom.
#3 Retail & Service Staff
While those in the retail and service businesses were already hit hard in the past two months because of falling traffic, many retailers, particularly those located at suburban malls, continue to stay resilient in an attempt to survive through this difficult period. So did their frontline workers including sales reps and shop managers.
Alas, unless they are considered as providing an essential service, they will not be allowed to operate over the next few weeks. Other service providers, such as those in the beauty and wellness industry, will also take a hit as they are unlikely to be able to continue operating.
This also means that their frontline staff will no longer be able to work. While some businesses which are able to afford it may continue paying their staff, others will require them to go on unpaid leaves.
#4 Freelance Sports Coaches, Trainers
Many freelancers were already hard hit over the past two months with the slowing economy and were resorting to innovative ways in order continue earning their keep (e.g. go from group classes to one-on-one training). However, the next few weeks would see them being unable to continue with many of these activities. With most swimming pools and gyms require to close, one-on-one training may be difficult to continue, assuming they are even allowed.
#5 Owners Of Mom-And-Pop Shops
Walk down the neighborhood in any housing estates and you will see many mom-and-pop shops providing a range of different services and products. These businesses are typically family-run, with just a handful of employees that would include family members.
The circuit breaker period affects them in two areas. Assuming they can continue operating, business would inevitably decline, given that people are encouraged not to head out during this period. Also, there would be many businesses that will not be allowed to continue operations and these businesses would see their revenue drop to close to zero.
At the same time, unlike workers who are on unpaid leaves, owners of these mom-and-pop shop will continue incurring cost such as rental, paying their suppliers and their employees.
If you are unsure whether your business can continue operations during this period, you can check it at the GO Business website.
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