Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) is gravely concerned that current bad 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.
We note that the three-hour reading at 9 am on 25 Sept 2015 was 294 and the PM2.5 reading at the same time was in the range 194-249.
The Ministry of Education has issued an advisory that all primary and secondary schools will be closed on 25 September because the haze is expected to reach hazardous levels. Workers who work outdoors in the construction, marine, sanitation and landscaping industries should be given special consideration different from workers who work indoors in air-conditioned offices. Moreover, manual workers in these industries do more 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 PSI exceeds 200 or average PM2.5 exceeds 50 and that no liquidated damages or penalties can be imposed on contract parties for delays or non-performance resulting from the imposition of state-wide Force Majeure.
If it is necessary to obtain retroactive legislative approval for such a state-wide declaration, the government should do so urgently.
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. TWC2 also expects the Ministry of Manpower 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.