Most firms unfazed by rule that staff must be fully inoculated to return to workplace from Jan 1

At the national level, 96 per cent of the total workforce has been inoculated.
At the national level, 96 per cent of the total workforce has been inoculated.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Businesses are largely unfazed by the requirement from Jan 1 for staff to be fully vaccinated to return to the workplace, given Singapore's high inoculation rate.

The new rules, announced by the Covid-19 multi-ministry task force on Saturday (Oct 23), will apply to all employees. Those who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past 270 days can also go back to the workplace.

Welcoming this move, Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said: "Since at least four to five months ago, employers have been encouraging vaccination."

Restaurant Association of Singapore president Andrew Kwan noted that many of the 5,000 outlets it represents have staff vaccination rates above 95 per cent.

Mr Wee said: "Given the Government's position on vaccination, I think there will be a strong welcome from businesses because the last thing they need is more disruption to their businesses if Covid-19 curbs are not eased."

He noted that certain firms, especially those which are consumer-oriented, may prefer staff to work on site. This may prompt remaining employees who have not been fully vaccinated yet to do so - unless they have valid medical reasons for not taking the shots.

At the national level, 96 per cent of the total workforce have been inoculated, and 70 per cent of firms have attained 100 per cent vaccination coverage.

But there remains 113,000 unvaccinated employees, more than 10 per cent of whom are seniors.

Last Wednesday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said during a virtual press conference that for unvaccinated seniors in their 60s, one in four "will require oxygen, intensive care, or will succumb" if they contract Covid-19.

On Saturday, the Ministry of Health (MOH), Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation issued an advisory on Covid-19 vaccination at the workplace.

The authorities said unvaccinated employees will need to take a Covid-19 test - at their own expense - if they need to return to the workplace.

The list of test providers authorised to conduct the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or the antigen rapid test (ART) can be found on MOH's website.

There are at least 700 to 800 clinics and healthcare providers offering these tests.

Checks by The Straits Times show that the PCR test costs about $140 and ART $25 to $40.

Special consideration will be given to staff who are medically ineligible for any vaccine, said the authorities in the advisory.

Employers should consider allowing these workers to work from home if they are able to do so or redeploy them to jobs which can be done from home.

They can also consider exempting the employee from workplace vaccination measures if they need to work on site.

Preparations are under way by companies to ensure medically ineligible staff are not left in limbo by the new rules.

Ms Stefanie Yuen Thio, joint managing partner at TSMP Law, said all but one of its staff are fully vaccinated.

She added: "We will bear the cost of the test and give time off to take it if the staff member has medical reasons that they cannot be vaccinated."

Singapore Manufacturing Federation president Douglas Foo said it has a pre-event testing centre at its headquarters in Jalan Bukit Merah for manufacturing workers and nearby businesses.

Asked whether having to take a test every time one returns to the workplace would be inconvenient for employees, he added: "We have to balance this with the risk of workers getting infected and businesses having to shut down operations."

To keep the workplace safe is a shared responsibility and everybody who knows someone who is not vaccinated can play a role in encouraging the person to take the vaccine, he said.

Mr Foo added: "If the human resources department approaches a worker, they may be fearful. You need to build trust, to understand their concerns about the vaccine."