THE Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and its tripartite partners have called on condominium owners and management corporations to exercise restraint in activating penalty clauses for delays to the delivery of services during the Covid-19 period.

In an advisory on Thursday, MOM and the partners noted that the pandemic has disrupted services related to the maintenance of condos and other private developments. Managing agents (MAs) and facility management companies (FMCs) generally require workers to be on-site to do the work, and, as service providers, have been hit by the tightening of the number of workers available.

“Service buyers, service providers, and workers have been adversely affected. Close cooperation among all stakeholders is needed to ensure the sustainability of the strata-management and facility-management sectors,” the advisory said.

Therefore, management corporation strata titles (MCSTs) and building owners play a critical role in supporting operational changes that will enable MAs and FMCs to meet their expectations while keeping their resident workers and continuing to develop their capabilities, it said.

“Company policies and business-as-usual mindsets should be revised for the long-term viability of the sector. The focus should be on greater efficiency and better quality of service with no compromise on employee welfare.”

MCSTs and building owners should pay MAs and FMCs according to the contract terms unless there are changes in services required, it said.

There have been calls by building owners for their MAs and FMCs to pass on to them, partially or wholly, the payouts received under the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS).

The advisory said that MCSTs and building owners should not ask for discounts on contract fees simply because their MAs and FMCs receive wage support through the JSS.

“The JSS is intended to help enterprises retain their local employees during this period of economic uncertainty.”

MAs and FMCs are not regarded as labour suppliers that should pass JSS payouts to their clients, it added.

Labour suppliers are typically only responsible for providing manpower to their clients and have no further responsibilities to provide professional management services.

The situation is different with outsourced service providers (like MAs) that contract with MCSTs, which, as service buyers, typically do not have direct control over the employment and deployment of specific workers.

The advisory said: “As the key decisions on worker employment rests with the MAs and FMCs, the JSS payouts should be retained by them to help meet their obligations to workers and to support local employment.

“This same principle also applies to government-owned properties which are being outsourced and managed and maintained by the MAs or FMCs. The government agencies do not expect a refund for the JSS payout from their MAs and FMCs,” it said.

During this pandemic, MAs and FMCs are also incurring additional costs in complying with the safe-management measures and in keeping their employees motivated; such costs are not being charged to the MCSTs and building owners, it said.

“We understand that residents in developments managed by MCSTs could also be affected by the economic uncertainty. If there is a change in contract terms, MAs/FMCs and MCSTs/building owners should negotiate new terms based on the new deployment and requirement.”

MCSTs and building owners should exercise flexibility with service-contract clauses at this time. In particular, contract clauses on liquidated damages should not be imposed on MAs and FMCs for breaches that are beyond the MAs and FMCs’ control,” it said.

MAs and FMCs should pay workers appropriately; workers with heavier workloads – due perhaps to their being deployed to new work areas or there being insufficient hands on deck – should be paid higher wages.

In the case of workers with lower workloads, MAs and FMCs should follow the advisories on salary and leave arrangements, and factor in the government support they are receiving to keep and pay their workers – even at times of reduced business activity.

The MOM and tripartite partners also issued an advisory on ensuring the sustainability of the landscape sector.

It noted that landscape work requires employees to be outdoors, and that service buyers should ensure that workers get enough rest to minimise the risk of fatigue- or heat-related accidents and disorders.

They should be provided with suitable personal protective equipment and taught how to use them correctly. In addition, cleaning/disinfecting agents should be provided and employees should be reminded to practise good personal hygiene.

Workers should also have access to proper and reasonable rest areas in or near their work premises.

“As adjustments to work processes and work teams will be required, service buyers should similarly adjust their expectations. This will help ensure that employees are kept safe at work, and landscape companies are not put at risk of flouting safe-management measures,” it said.

They should prioritise landscape maintenance works that are essential to maintain public safety and health.

This includes tree inspections, pruning, removal of fallen and diseased trees, pruning of vegetation that may obstruct traffic and road- and rail-related structures, basic park maintenance to remove hazards and maintain hygiene, grass cutting, watering to mitigate drought conditions, stock management and maintenance of ornamental nurseries.

Private properties should review the landscape maintenance frequency in lower-priority areas.

In general, service buyers should consider exercising their discretion to pay more to service providers and landscape workers, where more services have been rendered.

“Should the need to redeploy employees to other work sites arise, service providers should do so responsibly and on reasonable terms.”

They should also engage their unions and affected employees before such redeployment or adjustments to their job scopes.

Source: https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/real-estate/condo-owners-should-go-easy-in-exercising-penalty-clauses-during-covid-19-mom

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