At least 150 apply for 1,500 Covid-19 jobs

A medical worker explaining the swab test procedure to a foreign worker with Covid-19 symptoms at the on-site medical facility in Avery Lodge dormitory last week. Swabber, swab assistant and site supervisor positions are among the 1,500 openings that
A medical worker explaining the swab test procedure to a foreign worker with Covid-19 symptoms at the on-site medical facility in Avery Lodge dormitory last week. Swabber, swab assistant and site supervisor positions are among the 1,500 openings that need to be filled amid the pandemic.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Recruitment drive for roles such as swabbers to help with increased testing for virus

The job, offered on a short-term contract, pays $3,800 a month.

There are requirements, such as the need to be medically fit, but experience in healthcare is not necessary as training will be provided.

As a swabber, one will be required to work at places such as community recovery facilities, government quarantine facilities and nursing homes, performing nasopharyngeal swab procedures - a method of collecting clinical test samples from the back of the nose and throat by inserting a swab into the nostril.

It is all to help with increased testing for Covid-19 in the national fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

There are also swab assistant, operations support and site supervisor positions available.

Since the call was put out on Facebook on Tuesday last week by e2i, a tripartite initiative of the National Trades Union Congress set up to support nationwide manpower and skills upgrading initiatives, 150 people have applied for the new openings, with more sign-ups coming in, the Health Promotion Board told The New Paper last Friday.

All in all, about 1,500 people are needed to fill swabber, swab assistant, operations support and site supervisor positions, it added.

Mr Dennis Tan, 51, who lost his banking job two years ago and became a Grab driver, is one of those keen to sign up.

The sole breadwinner and married father of two said: "Before Covid-19, I could take home $4,000 to $5,000 a month with at least 12 hours of driving each day. Now, with the same amount of driving, I take home only about $1,500."

While he is worried about catching the virus, he said he was moved by Facebook posts from his cousin, a nurse at the National University Hospital, sharing both the struggle and joy of being on the front line.

Mr Tan also trusts that the safety measures that are in place will keep him protected. He said: "I just have to take it as a job hazard."

 
 
 

The recruitment drive was shared on Facebook by Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin as well as Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and National Development Sun Xueling.

The Speaker added that this was part of a bigger effort to create more new jobs, whether on a temporary or long-term basis.

But the advertisements caused a stir when some netizens on social media questioned why swabbers and swab assistants could earn $3,800 and $3,400 - higher, they claimed, than the pay of some qualified healthcare professionals.

A Facebook user, who said she was a nurse of 11 years, wrote that she was "really appalled" at how much "non-healthcare background people" are paid compared with healthcare workers.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) later clarified that the swab operations jobs are short-term contract roles with no progression pathways. These positions also do not come with any additional allowances or bonuses.

This is in contrast to the average gross monthly salary for entry-level registered nurses, which ranges from $3,300 to $5,200, depending on their qualifications and after factoring in allowances and bonuses.

These nurses are also eligible for annual salary increments as well as training opportunities to upskill themselves and develop careers as a nurse clinician, educator or leader in the healthcare sector, MOH said in response to media queries last Friday.

In response to the online talk, Temasek chief executive Ho Ching took to Facebook on Sunday, saying: "For anyone who thinks their pay is unfairly lower than the swabbers, stop whining and go volunteer to be trained to do the swabbing."

Covid-19 volunteers are being trained for all sorts of paid jobs - from administrative to swabbing; from cleaning to patient service; from logistics and driving to front-line support in the red zones, she added.

"We don't take for granted their kindness and public spirit in volunteering," she wrote.

"We pay them properly, and yes, we will pay them higher than for easier and safer jobs."

 
 

A manager who wanted to be known only as Mr Shi, 44, said he has been sharing the advertisement with many of his friends who have lost their jobs or have had their income affected by Covid-19.

"Things won't pick up so soon, (it's) better to get some income with available job opportunities," he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2020, with the headline 'At least 150 apply for 1,500 Covid-19 jobs'. Print Edition | Subscribe