Mr Akbar Khan Omar Khan had been working as a butler for high-priority guests at five-star hotel Grand Hyatt for about 30 years when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
During the circuit breaker to stem the spread of the disease last year, his department saw few such guests arriving and so the hotel's management offered him and his colleagues the option to be seconded to another company to work in essential roles.
These included jobs as safe distancing ambassadors, contact tracers, temperature screeners, warehouse pickers or packers, and supermarket retail assistants.
Mr Akbar, 48, accepted the offer to work as a retail assistant at a FairPrice supermarket, in charge of stocking and rearranging shelves for drinks, rice, sugar and eggs.
Some colleagues who did not want to be seconded were asked to clear their paid leave or accept a transfer to other departments within the hotel that needed more manpower, he said.
Yesterday, at an online appreciation session organised by the Food, Drinks and Allied Workers Union (FDAWU), Mr Akbar was one of about 2,000 hotel employees honoured for taking on front-line essential roles.
More than 280 representatives from 34 hotels and 15 government agencies and companies attended the session.
From July to November last year, Mr Akbar was also deployed as a safe management inspector with the Singapore Tourism Board.
He was in charge of inspecting shops in Little India.
He said his customer-facing experience proved useful in helping him to convince shop owners to adhere to safe management measures.
"Sometimes, you can tell that they don't want us to come and inspect their shops. But I talked to them nicely and I told them, 'If you follow these procedures, your customers will feel safe and they will want to come and shop.' They listened and were happy to receive us," said Mr Akbar.
He has since returned to Grand Hyatt and has been helping out in the housekeeping department, which is short-staffed.
FDAWU helped to facilitate the redeployment by connecting hotels with employers such as supermarkets.
Hotels receive payment from employers that require the manpower. In turn, the hotels are better able to retain their employees and continue to pay salaries.
Mr Kenneth Teo, human resources manager of DFI Retail Group, which owns chain stores including Cold Storage, Giant and Guardian, said the group faced a manpower crunch during the circuit breaker last year, as some 500 of its employees from Malaysia were stuck in their home country.
DFI hired about 500 hotel employees and redeployed them.
"Hotel workers have always been known for their service standards and they demonstrated this during their interactions with our customers during their attachment," said Mr Teo, 35.
"We were fortunate to be able to work with hotels that deployed their F&B (food and beverage) workers to us. The workers' skill sets in food handling were valuable in serving our customers at our ready-to-eat counters and fresh departments."
FDAWU said these employees "exhibited the true spirit of hospitality by stepping forward out of their comfort zone to take on the essential worker roles".
"By doing so, they had also helped their employers to save costs to keep the businesses going during the pandemic," it added.
FDAWU adviser Christopher de Souza, an MP for Holland Bukit-Timah GRC, said in a speech at the appreciation ceremony that companies had used the redeployment as a way to manage their manpower needs.
"Our workers fully empathised with the situation and selflessly agreed to be deployed temporarily to another company," he said.
"They have worked tirelessly on the ground and contributed in their own ways to society, such as ensuring adherence to safe management measures or stocking up supermarket shelves with necessities during the panic buying period."
FDAWU general secretary Tan Hock Soon noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of flexibility and adaptability. "The pandemic may have lasted longer than we expected, but we have also learnt an important lesson - to embrace changes and be flexible so that everyone can overcome the challenges together, in our very own Singapore spirit."