Coronavirus pandemic

Chef keeps busy with temp job as supermarket worker

To ease manpower crunch, Dairy Farm Group is working with some hotels to redeploy their staff in new roles

Mr Alex Yeo, a sous-chef at Jiang-Nan Chun at Four Seasons Hotel Singapore, stocking shelves at Cold Storage at The Rail Mall. He is among more than 150 staff from seven hotels who have been redeployed to stores under the Dairy Farm Group. ST PHOTO:
Mr Alex Yeo, a sous-chef at Jiang-Nan Chun at Four Seasons Hotel Singapore, stocking shelves at Cold Storage at The Rail Mall. He is among more than 150 staff from seven hotels who have been redeployed to stores under the Dairy Farm Group. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

In normal times, Mr Alex Yeo whips up tantalising dishes at Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant Jiang-Nan Chun.

But this week, the sous-chef who has been with Four Seasons Hotel Singapore for 19 years started work as a sales assistant at Cold Storage at The Rail Mall, where he restocks shelves with fruits, vegetables and meat.

Before Monday, he had been using his annual leave to rest at home as the restaurant had to close for the circuit breaker period.

"Thankfully, I've this job now and there's no need to take no-pay leave. I can also learn new things and meet new colleagues," he said.

Mr Yeo, 46, is among more than 150 Singaporean and permanent resident staff from seven hotels who have been redeployed to Cold Storage, Giant and Guardian stores under the Dairy Farm Group.

They are working in roles such as cashiers, sales assistants and retail assistants for one to three months.

Ms Jennifer Lee, Dairy Farm's human resources director for South-east Asia, said the company is working with the Food, Drinks and Allied Workers Union (FDAWU) to expand the programme further, depending on manpower needs.

The retailer is facing a labour shortage because more than 500 staff have been unable to return from Malaysia due to the country's movement control order.

At the same time, its supermarkets have been busier, and staff are needed to enforce Covid-19 measures such as temperature screening and safe distancing, said Ms Lee.

"We needed to quickly bring additional manpower on board and saw an opportunity to support other affected industries by offering recruitment opportunities to their staff," she said.

Part-timers from other industries such as airlines are also working with the group.

  • >500

  • Number of Dairy Farm Group staff who have been unable to return from Malaysia due to the country's movement control order. At the same time, its supermarkets have been busier, and workers are needed to enforce Covid-19 measures such as temperature screening and safe distancing.

Since early last month, FDAWU has also been working with government agencies and companies such as food manufacturing firms and fast-food outlets to place some 1,000 hotel workers in new roles, such as SG Clean ambassadors, said its general secretary Tan Hock Soon.

The union hopes this will protect the survival of hotels - which have been badly hit by the fall in tourist numbers - and the livelihoods of workers, Mr Tan added.

The Dairy Farm scheme started on April 21 with staff from Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford. Other hotels now on board include Four Seasons Hotel Singapore and Mandarin Oriental, Singapore.

Dairy Farm pays the hotels a fixed fee for each worker. It also provides on-the-job training.

Fairmont and Swissotel, Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental said they continue to pay the workers their regular salaries.

Mr Marcus Hanna, general manager of Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford, said rank-and-file workers have not had their salaries cut. Besides the 76 staff working at Dairy Farm stores, some are redeployed at other companies, some have taken paid leave while others are going for training.

Swissotel senior duty manager Sukunah Ramasamy, 57, restocks shelves and takes temperatures as a sales assistant at Cold Storage in Holland Village.

Her interpersonal skills from 27 years at the hotel come in handy when some customers question the need to queue to enter the store or provide their identification cards.

"I just try to make them smile and help them understand that the Government is doing all these things to try and keep them safe," she said.

Ms Shabana Beevi Mohamed Sultan, 37, an assistant reservations manager at Mandarin Oriental, said her new role as a cashier at a Giant store in Jurong West was challenging at the start as she is used to communicating with hotel guests via phone and e-mail.

She also has to remember the item codes of fruits and vegetables. The on-the-job training helped, and she has learnt to adapt.

"Connecting and assisting people from all walks of life in our community has been enriching," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2020, with the headline Chef keeps busy with temp job as supermarket worker. Subscribe