Thursday, 23 April 2020

COVID-19: a snapshot of how various countries in the Asia-Pacific help companies tackle the pandemic



Authors: Premsheila Khindria (Content Management Analyst) and
              Kavitha Kesavan (Content Management Analyst)
On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic
which has led billions of people into lockdown. The governments of various countries are
issuing numerous measures to contain the pandemic such as flexibility to work from home and
reliefs for employees and businesses suffering due to the lockdown.
In this article, we have briefly addressed how each of the 14 countries covered in our Asia Pacific Employment Law subscription has dealt with this situation, including measures to help employees stay employed and guidance to prevent the spread of the virus at the workplace.

(Note: For further information about our Asia Pacific Employment Law subscription, contact us at my-sales@wolterskluwer.com (Malaysia) or sg-sales@wolterskluwer.com (Singapore).

Australia

A new wage subsidy plan worth $130b was announced by the government on 30 March 2020.
The payments are:
  • • Employees to receive a flat $1,500 per fortnight “JobKeeper” wage subsidy for the next 
  • six months for employers to keep them in work.Who is eligible to receive the payments?
    • — full and part-time workers
    • — sole traders, and
    • — casuals who have been with their employers for 12 months or more.The payments will flow in from 1 May and will be backdated as on 30 March 2020.
  • • Eligible sole traders will be granted access to the job seeker allowance, which basically 
  • includes an additional coronavirus supplement of $550 per fortnight for the next six months.
  • • Not-for-profits and small businesses with a turnover under $50m will receive a tax-free 
  • cash payment from $20,000 up to $100,000 to help them retain staff.
  • • Eligible employers can apply for a wage subsidy of 50% of an apprentice’s or trainee’s 
  • wage for up to nine months from 1 January 2020 to 30 September 2020.
If in case a small business is not able to retain an apprentice, the subsidy will then be available
 to a new employer that employs that apprentice.
Further reading: AUS ¶105-030

China

China has yet to implement a massive fiscal stimulus to directly indemnify companies’ economic
loss incurred by work ban during the COVID-19.
The People’s Bank of China issued US$15.9b of preferential interest rate loans to support
businesses resuming work and production.
Further reading: CHN ¶40-061

Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Government announced that public sector employees (except for staff in
departments providing emergency services and essential public services) are allowed to work from home. Employers in the private sector are allowed to cease their business activities temporarily or to ask
their employees to work from home. The employers must continue to pay the salary and benefits,
unless the employees agree on a different arrangement. If an employee agrees to a variation of
his/her contractual terms, the employers should document any such variations especially those
relating to a reduction of salary and benefits in writing.
If an employee refuses to come to work, this may amount to a breach of the employment contract.
If an employee is not able to work from home, upon an agreement, he/she can take annual leave.
Alternatively, the parties could agree on a period of unpaid leave.
Under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (Cap 487), if an employee is subjected to less
favourable treatment by his/her employer as a result of having or the suspicion of having
contracted COVID-19, they may allege unlawful discrimination. However, it will appear reasonable
for employers to refrain employees displaying symptoms of COVID-19 from going to work to
protect public health. Employers should ensure that they consider all of the relevant factors and
alternatives to avoid imposing any unreasonable or unnecessary hardship on employees.
Section 36 of the Employees’ Compensation Ordinance states that an employee may still claim
compensation for a disease if it is a personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course
of employment. If an employee contracts or suspects having contracted COVID-19, the employee
should notify their employer immediately so the employer can notify the Labour Department.
An employee who contracts COVID-19 and is placed in quarantine should be entitled to sickness
allowance in accordance with the Employment Ordinance.
If an employee is requested not to come to work by his/her employer, but is otherwise able and
willing to do so, should receive his/her usual pay and benefits (unless the employee has
contractually agreed to go on unpaid leave). If the employer requested the employee not to come
 to work and does not have a job that can be done remotely, then he/she is entitled to be paid their
usual pay.
The government has set up a $30b Anti-epidemic Fund which will provide additional resources to
strengthen the territorial-wide anti-epidemic work and will render support to the affected industries
and employees, such as the construction sector, the tourism sector, the transport sector, the retail
sector and the F&B sector. The government will launch as soon as possible an Employment
Support Scheme of a total commitment of $81b to provide time-limited financial support to
employers to retain their employees who will inevitably be made redundant due to the downturn
in business.
Further reading: HKG ¶50-455

India

The Indian Prime Minister announced a complete nationwide lockdown from 25 March 2020
until 3 May 2020 to contain COVID-19.
The Ministry of Labour and Employment has issued advisories to employers not to terminate their
 employees from their jobs or reduce their wages, particularly casual or contractual employees. If
there is any suspected or infected worker and he/she is unable to report to work till 15 April 2020,
 the employer shall not deduct his/her wages or remove him/her from service. Leave may be
granted to employees during this period without any consequential deduction in wages.
In relation to claims from the Employees’ Insurance Scheme (ESI), if an employee got infected
during the course of employment, they will be entitled to sickness benefit of 91 days at the rate of
 70% of average daily wages and the employer will not be liable to pay any wages during the said
period.
In case the infected employees are not covered under ESI, the cost of diseases may be borne by
the employer as per the company’s policy. If the company policy does not provide to obtain general medical insurance for its employees or to reimburse the cost of medical expenses, the employee will be
liable to incur the cost of medical treatment.
The government has announced various measures to help employers and employees during this
time, such as the extension of filing returns for both income tax and GST. Sections 7, 9 and 10 of
the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code may be suspended for six months to stop companies being
forced to insolvency. The government has decided to raise the threshold for insolvency
proceedings from Rs1 lakh to Rs1 crore. Newly incorporated companies have been allowed an
extension to file the certificate of commencement of business by further six months.
The mandatory requirement for companies to hold board meetings has also been extended by
60 days.
Under the PM Gareeb Kalyan scheme, establishments with up to 100 employees, where 90% of
 employees are drawing less than Rs15,000 salary per month, the Government of India will pay
the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) contribution both of the employer and the employee (12%
 each, aggregating to 24%) for the next three months. EPF members are permitted to non-
refundable withdrawal not exceeding the basic wages and dearness allowance for three months
or up to 75% of the amount standing to the credit of their EPF account, whichever is less.
Further reading: IND ¶50-414

Indonesia

President Joko Widodo declared a public health emergency in Indonesia through a “Keppres”,
a presidential decree that enables the implementation of civil emergency measures as well as a
government regulation that lays out the guidelines for “large scale social distancing”. The
government imposed a lockdown in Jakarta from 10 April 2020 until 24 April 2020.The large scale
social restriction will be extended until 22 May 2020 as the COVID-19 outbreak has yet to subside.

The government is providing full medical coverage for COVID-19 patients through BPJS
Kesehatan. The government announced that civil servants are allowed to work from home.
Employers in the private sector can cease their business activities temporarily by instructing
all employees to stay at home or to allow employees to work from home. The employers must
continue to pay the salary and benefits unless the employees (or the labour union, if there is one)
agree on a different arrangement.
The Jakarta Provincial Manpower Office Circular No 14/SE/2020 on Working from Home provides
three options for employers to be discussed with employees and/or labour union (if any) before
being introduced. Employers need to report the approaches that they would like to apply to the
Manpower Office.
The three approaches are as per the following:
  • • temporary shutdown of business operations
  • • temporary reduction in business operations (reduction in the number of employees working, working hours and number of operational facilities), or
  • • in the case of employers that are unable to curtail business operations, they should bear in
  •  mind the importance of their employees’ needs in relation to health services, essential 
  • household requirements and fuel.
The Ministry of Manpower Circular No M/3/HK.04/III/2020 on Protection of the Interests of 
Employees and Ensuring Business Continuity instructs provincial governors to take various
actions to protect the interests of employees and ensure business continuity in the light of the
COVID-19 challenge.
If an employee is declared as a Person Under Monitoring (Orang Dalam Pemantauan or ODP)
pursuant to a medical certificate, the employer must allow the employee to not come to work for
14 days or the number of days recommended by the Ministry of Health at the relevant time. The
employee will be entitled to the sick leave at the normal salary rate applicable for an employee
who is absent due to illness, ie:
  • • first four months of illness: 100%
  • • second four months of illness: 75%
  • • third four months of illness: 50%, and
  • • each subsequent month of illness: 25% (until termination of employment).
In the manufacturing sector, a six-month tax break will be granted, starting in April 2020.
President Joko Widodo has signed a “Perppu”, a government regulation that becomes effective
immediately and is treated as legally binding, on financial policies and stability of the financial
system amid the COVID-19 outbreak, including an Rp405.1 trillion increase in the state budget to
cater to exigent expenses such as spending on health equipment. Rp75 trillion has been
earmarked for the purchase of testing kits, reagents, personal protective equipment and masks,
among other health-related expenditures. Besides that, Rp110 trillion will be used to provide a
social security net, Rp70.1 trillion will go towards fiscal incentives and credit for businesses, and
Rp150 trillion will be used for economic recovery.
Further reading: INS ¶50-455

Japan

A package of US$4.1b was announced by the government that includes support for small to
medium-sized businesses hit by the COVID-19 outbreak.
The package includes:
  • • subsidies for parents who need to take time off work due to school closures
  • • funding for the development of virus vaccines and test kits and for extra production of 
  • protective masks, banning of their resale, and
  • • about US$15b in interest-free, no collateral loans to help such companies manage during
  •  the crisis.
Further reading: JPN ¶50-331

Malaysia

Malaysia has announced an economic stimulus package for the M40 and B40 groups totalling
RM10b as part of a massive US$58b stimulus package.
The payout will be made in stages and the initiatives are listed below:
  • • RM1,600 to households earning up to RM4,000 per month.
  • • RM1,000 to households earning from more than RM4,000 to RM8,000 per month.
  • • RM800 to singles aged 21 and above earning up to RM2,000 per month.
  • • RM200 for every student studying at the institutes of higher education.
  • • Withdrawal up to RM500 per month from your Employee Provident Fund (EPF) Account 2 
  • for six months.
  • • Free internet for all Malaysians from 1 April 2020 onwards until the end of the Movement 
  • Control Order (MCO) period.
  • • Housing loans and hire purchase loans can be deferred for six months, from 1 April 2020 
  • to 30 September 2020.
  • • If there is a fall in income of more than 50% for employers since 1 January 2020, 
  • employers can claim from SOCSO and it shall be credited directly into the employer’s 
  • account within seven days of application starting 1 April 2020.
The government announced a lockdown from 14 March 2020 until 28 April 2020. The lockdown
has been extended until 12 May 2020.
Further reading: MAL ¶50-291

New Zealand

The government has announced a lockdown which is presently from 25 March 2020 until the
22 April 2020 except for essential services. New Zealand will move from COVID-19 Alert Level 4
to Alert Level 3 at 11:59 pm on 27 April 2020. The country will stay in Alert Level 3 for two weeks
 before a further review and Alert Level decision on 11 May 2020.
If employees are self-isolating because they have COVID-19, they would be entitled to take paid
sick leave. If their employees’ sick leave is exhausted, they may make a request to take sick leave
in advance and/or annual leave.
The government will provide a wage subsidy to support employers who have been affected by
COVID-19 which include:
  • • The obligation for an employer to use best endeavours to pay employees 80% of their 
  • previous income still stands, but where that is not possible, for example where all business 
  • activity has ceased, they must pass on at least the whole value of the wage subsidy to each
  •  affected worker. Employers should make an assessment of what is to be paid by looking at
  •  the employee’s normal hours in the period before COVID-19.
  • • Businesses must keep employees in employment for the period of the subsidy.
  • • The previous sick leave scheme has been merged into the wage subsidy scheme to 
  • prevent double-dipping. Originally designed when few people were in self-isolation, it is no
  •  longer fit for purpose. The Government is working on arrangements for those in essential 
  • work requiring sick leave due to COVID-19.
New businesses (eg that are less than a year old) and high growth firms (eg firms that have had
a significant increase in revenue) are also eligible.
Self-employed people with variable monthly incomes are eligible if they can demonstrate the
 revenue loss assessment against the previous year’s monthly average (eg 30% loss of income
attributable to COVID-19 comparing March 2020 to the average monthly income in the period
March 2019 to March 2020). The scheme does cover registered charities, non-governmental
organisations, incorporated societies and post-settlement governance entities.
Further reading: NEH ¶105-310

Philippines

The entire island of Luzon, including the National Capital Region, was placed on Enhanced
 Community Quarantine which is presently from 17 March 2020 until 30 April 2020 except for
private establishments providing basic necessities and activities related to food and medicine
production. The Enhanced Community Quarantine in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, 
and "all other high risk" provinces in Luzon will be extended until 15 May 2020. 

Employees are still allowed to work from home if this is operationally feasible and should be paid
their usual pay. If employers are implementing flexible working arrangements, they should consult
their employees about the implementation of such arrangement; notify the DOLE about the
adoption of such arrangement at least one week prior to the arrangement’s implementation and
post a copy of DOLE Advisory No 09, Series of 2020 (Guidelines on the Implementation of
Flexible Work Arrangements as Remedial Measure Due to the Ongoing Outbreak of Coronavirus
Disease 2019) in a conspicuous location in the workplace.
Under DOLE’s Order No 209, Series of 2020 or “Guidelines on the Adjustment Measures Program
 for Affected Workers due to Coronavirus Disease 2019” a one-time financial assistance
equivalent to PHP5,000 shall be provided to affected workers in lump-sum, non-conditional
and regardless of employment status. The applicant must be a private establishment that
has implemented flexible work arrangements or temporary closures due to COVID-19.
Affected establishments must submit the following:
  • • Establishment Report on COVID-19, pursuant to Labour Advisory No 9, Series of 2020.
  • • Company payroll for the month prior to the implementation of flexible work arrangement 
  • or temporary closure.
A small business wage subsidy programme was approved whereby a subsidy, ranging from
PHP5,000 to PHP8,000 per beneficiary, will be given for two months.
Further reading: PHL ¶50-125

Singapore

The Government announced that most workplaces will be closed from 7 April 2020 until 4 May
2020 as Singapore puts in place a “circuit breaker” to pre-empt escalating COVID-19 infections.
Singapore has extended the circuit breaker until 1 June 2020.
Employers are required to notify the Ministry of Manpower if they implement any cost-saving
measures that affect the monthly salaries of their employees and indicate that they have done so
 fairly. The Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment
states that retrenchment should always be the last resort in the management of excess manpower.
If working from home is not feasible, employees and employers must agree to any suggested
annual leave or unpaid leave.
Under the National Wage Council 2020/2021 Guidelines, the NWC recommends focussing on
training and upskilling, adopting flexible work schedules and supporting affected local employees
 who wish to seek a second job to supplement their income to reduce non-wage costs and manage excess manpower.
The Resilience Budget, which was announced on 26 March 2020, seeks to assist to support
Singaporeans and businesses through the COVID-19 outbreak through various measures such
 as enhancements to existing schemes such as the Workfare Income Supplement scheme, the
Jobs Support scheme and the Enhanced Wage Credit scheme, cash payouts as well as the
introduction and enhancements of additional government grants. SGUnited Traineeships are to be
 launched for first-time job seekers to help them develop skills and boost their employability.
The COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Bill, which aims to assist those unable to fulfil contractual
obligations, was passed in Parliament on 7 April 2020 and will be valid for six months, with Law
Minister K Shanmugam given the power to extend it up to a year.
Companies implementing telecommuting and staggered work hours for at least one month,
 instead of six months, can qualify for the Ministry of Manpower’s existing Work-Life Grant which
provides $2,000 for every worker on flexi-work.
Further reading: SGP ¶50-466

South Korea

The Ministry of Employment and Labour has decided to provide subsidies up to KRW66,000 per
 worker per day for up to 180 days (up to KRW198m per month) to stabilise the employment of
corporate workers affected by COVID-19. The support will be provided if the affected company
implemented employment retention measures such as leave of absence or leave of absence
without reducing the number of workers. In case of leave of absence for more than 20% of the
total working hours or leave of absence for more than one month, 2/3 to 1/2 of the labour cost
paid by the employer shall be supported.
An employer will usually be required to pay a business suspension allowance of at least 70% of
 “the average wage” if the employer, on its own initiative, temporarily suspends business. However, if the suspension was done to prevent the spread of COVID-19, then an employer may not have to pay allowances,
 although the Ministry of Employment and Labour strongly recommends doing so. The standard of
whether any allowance must be paid depends on whether such a suspension could be attributable
 to the employer and depends on the facts of the situation. If an employee becomes ill as a result
of work travel, then the employee would usually be entitled to paid leave for the work-related
 illness or injury. However, if the employee does not comply with the recommendations of the
 government agency or the employer and travels to an affected area, it is unlikely that an
employee would be able to demand any wages in this situation.
Further reading: KOR ¶70-270

Taiwan

The Government has rolled out the $2b stimulus package plan as part of the employment
stabilisation programme, with the money coming from the employment stabilisation fund and
 employment insurance fund.
Under the programme:
  • • Subsidies will be given to employees on unpaid leave, unemployed workers, enterprises
  •  and microbusiness startups.
  • • Companies implementing unpaid leave can apply for NT$3.5m in subsidies to hold
  •  training sessions, with each employee eligible to receive NT$158 per hour for attending
  •  a maximum of 120 hours of training per month, with the programme lasting a maximum 
  • of three months.
  • • Employees who have their work hours reduced can receive a maximum of NT$11,000–
  • NT$15,400 per month in wage subsidies for three to six months.
  • • As for unemployed workers, in addition to existing unemployment benefits, the
  •  Government plans to expand subsidies for students with unemployed parents for the spring
  •  semester.
  • • To help unemployed workers return to the workplace, a total of NT$600m will be 
  • earmarked to subsidise employers who hire the unemployed.
  • • Companies that hire people who have been unemployed for more than 30 days will 
  • receive a monthly subsidy of NT$5,000 for each individual hired for a maximum of six 
  • months.
  • • Employers who hire those who have been out of work for more than three months will 
  • receive NT$9,000 per month for each employee hired for a maximum of one year.
  • • The Government will also provide a maximum of NT$2m to help businesses that 
  • implement unpaid leave and seek to improve workplace safety during the furlough period.
If the COVID-19 outbreak gets worse, the Government will roll out a plan for short-term
employment in the public sector.
Further reading: [¶17], Issue 4, April 2020

Thailand

The Government had recently implemented a stimulus package of US$12.7b to mitigate the
 impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The package includes:
  • • THB5,000 a month for three months for approximate 3m workers not covered by the 
  • Social Security Fund (SSF)
  • • THB10,000 emergency loan per person at 0.1% monthly interest (no collateral required)
  • • THB50,000 special loan per person at 0.35% monthly interest (collateral required)
  • • state-owned pawnshops to charge a lower rate of interest, ie 0.125% per month
  • • date for filing personal and corporate income tax extended to August 2020
  • • deductions for health insurance premiums increased to THB25,000 from THB15,000
  • • tax exemption on risk payments for medical workers
  • • training for income earners
  • • loans up to THB3m for SME at 3% interest rate for the first two years, and
  • • relaxed debt repayments and lower interest rates for businesses.
The government declared a state of emergency on 26 March 2020 which will last until the end of
April 2020, with a possibility of an extension.
Further reading: [¶46] Issue 4, April 2020

Vietnam

Vietnam plans to spend US$1.16b to help businesses cope and is planning to issue a variety of
 incentives to soften the economic impact of COVID-19 outbreak.
The incentives will include:
  • • providing tax breaks, delayed tax payments and delay land-use fees for businesses, and
  • • delaying tax payment deadline by five months for businesses impacted by COVID-19.
Further reading: VIT ¶20-121

   

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