SINGAPORE: Foreign workers who live in dormitories and are barred from leaving the premises because of COVID-19 measures will have to be paid even if their work passes are cancelled, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
Currently, all foreign workers living in dormitories are not allowed to leave their premises to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The confinement, announced by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo on Apr 21, is scheduled to expire at the end of the “circuit breaker” period on Jun 1.
There are about 315,000 foreign workers living in dormitories, from larger purpose-built ones to smaller temporary quarters within construction sites.
In response to queries from CNA, the ministry said that workers living in isolated dormitories are considered to be on hospitalisation leave and employers have to continue to pay their salaries for the entire period they are isolated, or until the worker uses up his hospitalisation leave.
Under the Employment Act, all employees are entitled to 60 days of paid hospitalisation leave.
In a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ page on its website, the ministry said that employers are encouraged to grant additional paid leave to quarantined workers if the hospitalisation leave is used up.
READ: Situation at larger foreign worker dormitories stable, but COVID-19 picture in smaller dorms ‘mixed’: Josephine Teo
In addition, employers can only repatriate their workers after the isolation period ends, MOM said.
MOM said last month that 62,000 employers of foreign workers on work permits or S Passes were set to receive nearly S$675 million in the first wave of foreign worker levy payouts from Apr 21.
The money is on top of the waiver for the monthly foreign worker levy that is due in April.
The ministry said that despite the levy waiver and rebates, "it is inevitable" that some employers will have to cancel their workers’ work passes during this “challenging economic environment”.
When a foreign worker's work pass is cancelled, the employer is responsible for repatriating the worker, if he is not transferred to another employer.
"Until the worker is repatriated, the employer remains responsible for taking care of the worker’s well-being, including accommodation," said MOM.
READ: Retrenchments and withdrawn job offers: Singapore's labour market shows signs of COVID-19 strain
Two foreign worker non-governmental organisations (NGO) told CNA they have come across several workers who have been laid off during this COVID-19 period.
ItsRainingRaincoats' founder Dipa Swaminathan said that her group has received several calls from migrant workers who have had their work permits cancelled since the start of the crisis.
Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME)’s case worker Desiree Leong said that since mid-March, the NGO has seen about 150 workers who were either dismissed or forced to take unpaid leave.
While not all had their work permits cancelled, being put on indefinite no-pay leave “is effectively the same as termination”, said Ms Leong.
MOM said in its response to CNA that it “expect(s) employers to not only look after their local workers but also their foreign workers”.
“We will not hesitate to take action against employers that do not fulfil their responsibilities and treat their workers unfairly,” it added.