SINGAPORE, 16 SEPTEMBER 2019 – Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) is gravely concerned that haze conditions will affect the health of workers in many trades, e.g. construction, marine, sanitation, landscaping.
TWC2 strongly urges the government to impose a mandatory Stop Work Order when 3-hour average PSI readings, issued hourly, exceed 200, or when PM2.5 readings exceed 50 micrograms per cubic metre.
On Saturday 14 September 2019, parts of Singapore saw PM2.5 readings hit 158 µg/m3 which is in the high Band III (footnote 1), while the 24-hr PSI at 5:20pm was 87-106, mostly in the Moderate and tipping into the Unhealthy range. (footnote 2). Although conditions improved a little on Sunday, our experience with haze conditions in previous years leads us to believe that conditions will wax and wane for weeks.
Workers who work outdoors are particularly exposed to risks, especially if they are manual workers undertaking physically strenuous work.
We understand that any mandatory stop work order will have effects on contractual liabilities. In this regard, the government has a role to play. It can declare that under Singapore law, courts will accept that Force Majeure is in effect when Stop Work Orders are issued by the government, and that no liquidated damages or penalties can be imposed on contract parties for delays or non-performance as a result.
It is important to free safety managers from any fear of being penalised by their bosses for stopping and delaying work, so that they can carry out their responsibility to workers’ safety and health without any conflict of interest.
TWC2 also expects that Stop Work should not only apply to outdoor work, but to any strenuous work (i.e. tasks that lead to breathing heavier than would result from casual walking) conducted in unfiltered air, whether outdoors or indoors. If any urgent strenuous work is required, e.g. rescue operations, employers should provide workers with respiratory masks, ensuring that they are in good working condition.
Stop Work orders, when mandated, should not be an excuse not to pay workers for the idle time. The Ministry of Manpower has to enforce the existing regulation that Work Permit holders should be paid at least their basic salaries on days when no work is assigned to them; this rule should apply when the state has issued a Stop Work order.