The Channel NewsAsia story dated 21 March 2020, titled “89 work passes revoked over breach of entry approval, stay-home notice requirements: MOM“, mentioned, almost in passing, that

Employers are reminded to seek approval online for work pass holders to enter or return to Singapore, as entry approvals and stay-home notices are now required for work pass holders entering Singapore from anywhere in the world.

Employers should inform their employees not to make travel plans to Singapore until approval has been obtained from MOM.

A similar rule was announced a week earlier, but applicable (then) only to foreign domestic workers (FDW). In a statement dated 15 March 2020, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said that all employers and employment agencies planning for their domestic workers to enter Singapore had to obtain MOM’s prior approval before they commenced their journey. This applied to all new FDWs (i.e. in-principle approval holders) and returning FDWs travelling to Singapore from any country.

On arrival in Singapore, FDWs must serve out a mandatory 14-day Stay-Home Notice (SHN). All new incoming FDWs must stay this period at dormitories, hostels or hotels (i.e. not the prospective employer’s residence) before they could be deployed for employment. For those returning, e.g. from home leave, their employers could arrange for them to serve 14 days at either the employer’s residential address or alternative accommodation.

MOM made it clear that the party who applied for the arrival permission (i.e. the employer or the employment agent) should be responsible for the worker serving the stay-home period properly. This party should also ensure proper housing and food and that the worker had access to a local mobile phone and remained contactable for compliance checks by MOM during the SHN period.

Widened to cover all work pass holders

Now this rule seems to have been expanded to cover all work pass holders, from all countries. A press release about penalties for 89 workers who breached the rules (dated 21 March 2020) has these paragraphs buried in its body:

As entry approvals and SHN are now required for work pass holders entering Singapore from anywhere in the world, employers are reminded to seek approval using the online facility for work pass holders to enter or return to Singapore. Employers should inform their employees not to make travel plans to Singapore until approval has been obtained from MOM.

Upon the employee’s arrival in Singapore, they will be required to serve a mandatory 14-day SHN. Employers and employees have a joint duty to ensure that employee behaves responsibly during the SHN.

No separate announcement about the widened rule was made. In fact, a check with this other page on MOM’s website (accessed 11pm on 21 March 2020) indicates that the widened rule came into effect at 23:59h on 20 March 2020…. before the “89 work passes revoked” press release was issued (on 21 March 2020) with the mention about the widened ban.

The requirement to get permission before the worker can start his/her journey to Singapore applies to both workers coming in for new jobs (i.e. those with In-Principle Approvals for Work Permits) and those returning from home leave.

It does not seem terribly fair to impose a new rule at such short notice, and basically only announce it after it came into effect. This is especially as MOM is saying it will impose severe penalties for violations, including a permanent ban (as happened to some or all of the 89 workers whose work passes were revoked).

A more obvious announcement should have been made a few days in advance, even though we all understand that the Covid-19 pandemic is fast evolving.

TWC2 fully understands that we need to be stringent in our precautions with the coronavirus (Sars-Cov-19) spreading rapidly around the world. However, rule changes have to be announced clearly and implemented thoughtfully — it should not be buried in a press release about past infringements — otherwise the confusion and costs that is produced can compound the already serious effects the situation has put on employers and workers.