Businesses step up efforts to nudge staff to get vaccinated

In an advisory issued on Aug 23, employers were urged to roll out a regime to get their staff vaccinated, or undergo regular tests.
In an advisory issued on Aug 23, employers were urged to roll out a regime to get their staff vaccinated, or undergo regular tests.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Mr Rishi Kesh Rai, an operations manager at cleaning company Springmount Services, was not keen on getting vaccinated against Covid-19 until a supervisor pointed out that his job, which requires him to meet and talk to many people daily, puts him at high risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

The 66-year-old decided to go for the Pfizer jab, and is fully vaccinated.

"My boss told me, 'Hey, you're not young anymore, don't play around (with your health). He wanted me to protect myself because I work with so many people."

Like Mr Rai's employers, businesses across Singapore have stepped up efforts to encourage their staff to get inoculated.

This comes after an advisory on how to manage unvaccinated employees was issued on Aug 23 by the Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF).

In the advisory, the tripartite partners urged employers to roll out a regime to get their staff vaccinated, or undergo regular tests.

Fast-food chain McDonald's expects its vaccination rate to hit at least 95 per cent by next month.

Some of its staff who are unable to get vaccinated due to medical or personal reasons have been placed in non-customer facing roles such as kitchen operations.

Mr Jordan Lim, director of eatery chain Red Ginger, said two of his staff have taken their first shots, but are uncertain if they can take the second dose due to health issues. The company will continue to pay for their regular testing as long as the staff have valid medical reasons.

As they wait for their doctor's appointments to get their condition checked thoroughly, they have been redeployed to do preparatory work in the pantry or kitchen, so that they will have less interaction with customers.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has been working with public transport operators to encourage front-line workers to get vaccinated. Over 99 per cent of them have completed their first dose of the vaccine and over 95 per cent are already fully vaccinated.

LTA said it is working closely with the operators and the National Transport Workers' Union on the implementation of the "vaccinate or regular test" regime.

Operators already administer antigen rapid tests (ART) for public transport workers who work near existing Covid-19 clusters. Workers who are medically eligible but choose to remain unvaccinated may have to pay for their own ART kits, said an LTA spokesman.

Industry leaders and observers said the "vaccinate or regular test" regime takes a shot at changing the way businesses operate in the new normal, but it will take time for companies to learn how to manage staff who are not inoculated.

The regime will be mandatory from Oct 1 for employees in selected sectors, including healthcare and eldercare, and settings with children aged 12 and below.

Businesses outside the specified sectors that wish to implement such a regime can also do so.

Employers can also require unvaccinated but medically eligible workers to bear Covid-19-related expenses incurred over and above those of vaccinated employees, the tripartite partners said. These include the cost of test kits and stay-home notice accommodation.

SNEF executive director Sim Gim Guan told The Straits Times that a common question it received from employers was whether they could ask employees to declare their vaccination status.

Employers can do so for business purposes, he said. He added that most firms plan to find out the vaccination status of their staff first before determining whether to implement the "vaccinate or regular test" regime voluntarily.

Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee said many businesses are supportive of the regime.

"It is a new normal. Certainly, there will be adjustments that companies, staff and customers will have to make, but the adjustment period will pass... Any unhappiness would be relatively short term," he said.

The Singapore Business Federation's chief executive Lam Yi Young said businesses can play their part by communicating the benefits of vaccination to their staff, engaging them to address their concerns, and giving them full support to get inoculated.

Human resource experts said the guidelines play a role in the Government's plan to mitigate the risks from Covid-19 and its variants.

But vaccination remains voluntary, stressed professional services firm KPMG's head of people in Singapore Janice Foo, adding that companies must reassure employees that they have a choice, without any worry about their jobs.

She pointed out that the guidelines requiring payment for test kits - regardless of how payment is recovered - apply to events and dining in at restaurants.

"The application... to the workplace is an extension of the existing approach," Ms Foo said, noting that the guidelines also do not apply to employees who are medically ineligible for the vaccines.

NeXT Career Consulting Group managing director Paul Heng urged employers to exercise caution in navigating the guidelines, and "apply them effectively to meet the needs of their business, as well as society at large".

For one, the deduction of employees' monthly income is a "management prerogative that must be used stringently", he said.

"It's a sacred cow... Employers can exercise this prerogative but whenever possible, do it with a reasonable pair of hands and, for those who are unionised, with their respective union's professional knowledge and support."

  • Additional reporting by Yeo Shu Hui