BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The government has issued guidelines requiring all public and private sector organisations to proceed with their business continuity plans and ensure non-essential employees work from home to combat rising COVID-19 cases.

Second Minister of Finance and Economy YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah said staff who can perform their work remotely must be allowed to work from home to safeguard their health.

Speaking during a press briefing on Tuesday, he said business continuity plans must be implemented in the next two weeks without compromising organisations’ core functions and services.

He said employers should use “common sense” to determine which employees can practise remote working.

This business continuity plan is not about everyone working from home. We need to make sure that businesses continue to function. Some people need to come to the office while some people can work from home,” the minister said.

Giving an example, he said organisations with 100 employees can identify 20 essential workers who should perform their duties at the workplace.

The 20 essential employees should then be split into two teams and work in different locations, the minister said.

If there is a large number of essential employees, organisations should segregate them into three or four groups at separate workplaces.

“Alternatively, such groups may also be required to work in the office on a rotating basis based on a schedule set by the head of department,” he added.

For suppliers or vendors making deliveries to office buildings, they should discuss with organisations on adopting delivery procedures that meet safety protocols.

Organisations were also advised to keep their premises clean to ensure the well-being of their workforce and contain the spread of COVID-19 in Brunei.

“People need to be mindful because we are dealing with a sudden surge in cases,” said YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin.

Second Minister of Finance and Economy YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin. Photo: Ain Bandial/The Scoop

The new business continuity plan guidelines was announced a day after the government said non-essential employees in the public and private sectors are required to work from home.

Essential staff who are not required to work from home include frontliners in the health, security, hospitality and transport sectors.

Other workers deemed essential are those employed in eateries, retail businesses, oil and gas and downstream sectors, construction, agrifood and forestry sectors.

‘Cut number of workers reporting to the office’

Health Minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said every company must show their effort in implementing business continuity plans and reduce the number of workers at the office.

“We don’t want to be dictatorial, but companies should use their own judgement so that we can reduce community spread,” he added.

Asked whether pregnant women should work from home even if they are considered essential workers, the health minister said pregnant women are at high-risk from developing serious complications from COVID-19.

“Organisations should try to make it possible for them to work from home. The management should understand because we have to protect them.

“They’re your workers. If possible, they should be considered to work from home,” he continued.

Brunei faces shortage of foreign workers

Responding to a question on the impact of surging COVID-19 infections on the economy, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin said specific sectors such as agriculture may be affected as Brunei is experiencing a shortage of foreign workers.

“Overall, our oil and gas and downstream sectors are doing okay. With the business continuity plan put in place, the impact [on the economy] would probably not be too significant.

“However, all of this depends on what’s going to happen with the COVID situation over the next coming weeks,” he added.

Addressing concerns of imported COVID-19 cases, the minister said community spread is not necessarily caused by imported cases and that the government has already banned travellers from countries with large outbreaks such as India and Indonesia.

“Our economy depends a lot on foreign workers,” YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin said, adding that the country relies on foreign labour particularly in the agriculture and energy sectors.

He said some foreign specialists arrive in Brunei to conduct periodical maintenance work in the oil and gas sector and that they are not in Brunei throughout the year.

Noting the importance of food supply in times of crisis, the minister said the country needs to ensure it is producing enough for local consumption.

“If we don’t have foreign workers assisting us, then naturally our supply will be less and more dependent on imports,” he continued.

Brunei reported a fall in number of foreign workers for the first time last year as COVID-19 travel curbs resulted in fewer expats entering the country while others left the sultanate once their contract ended.