SINGAPORE - Rice cookers, pots, pans and bags of rice were not things that hotel security supervisor Suresh Kumar Govindaraju ever thought he would see in guests' luggage.
But that was what happened when Amara Singapore was turned into a government quarantine facility for foreign workers in 2020. They thought that they would have to cook their own food in hotel rooms.
Mr Suresh, 54, volunteered to be transferred to the Tanjong Pagar hotel from his position at Amara Sanctuary Resort Sentosa to be part of the frontline team taking care of 250 foreign workers in quarantine.
On Monday (Oct 4), he was recognised for his dedication. He is one of 69 recipients of the Employee of the Year award, given to hospitality staff who showed excellent performance and have stayed resilient amid the disruption from the pandemic.
The award, launched in 1985, is organised by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), Food, Drinks and Allied Workers Union; and Singapore Hotel Association.
Fellow winner, craftsman Henry Goh Leng Hua from Swissotel The Stamford, was given the award for his resilience when he was seconded to supermarkets FairPrice and Cold Storage to assist with temperature-taking and restocking products. He also had a stint as an usher in Fullerton Health, handling queries from people who were getting their vaccination.
“Given the current pandemic situation, most companies have been or are still badly impacted. I am deeply thankful that our company looked at ways to save jobs and protect our livelihoods through redeployment in and outside of the hotel,” he said.
When asked on Monday if he was worried about catching the virus with Singapore hitting a record number of infections at the time, Mr Suresh shook his head.
"Anyone I stand next to in public can have the virus, not just those in the facility. Why should I be scared of the people coming to quarantine? They are my guests too," he said.
He credited his bravery to his family too. His wife is a frontline nurse at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and his eldest son took on temperature-taking stints at Alexandra Hospital.
"I come from a family of frontliners. My mother and even my grandparents all used to work in a hospital, I guess that is also why I was not worried about taking on these duties," he added.
He said his wife took extra precautions, washing his clothes in a bucket separately from the rest of the family's laundry.
Mr Liang Eng Hwa, MP for Bukit Panjang and adviser to the union, said at the award ceremony: "No doubt Covid-19 has brought unprecedented challenges to the industry, but I am heartened that our workers did not despair. Instead, you have stepped up to the plate, built versatility and resilience, and demonstrated commitment to service excellence."
Mr Suresh went beyond his assigned duties during his six months at the quarantine facility, delivering food and collecting trash and used towels from the foreign workers to help his housekeeping teammates - whom he called his family.
He was also tasked to check the workers' belongings for prohibited items like cigarettes and liquor. He found cooking utensils instead.
"Some of them don't speak English well, so they didn't fully understand what was happening. I had to assure them that their welfare was going to be taken care of, food and everything. I kept their rice cookers and told them they could take them back when they check out," the former firefighter said.
Talking to the foreign workers was also one of the things he found fulfilling.
He recalled his experience with one worker, who felt distress after over a month in quarantine.
"People can go crazy if they're stuck in a room and can only stare at the four walls. He called the front desk asking for help. I spent hours talking to him and giving him assurance that he would be transferred out when the time comes," he said.
Mr Suresh spent around four days having hourly talks with the worker daily on the phone, calming him until he could leave the facility.
"I was glad we could make him feel better before he left," he said.