New roles as safe distancing ambassadors for some workers amid job disruption due to Covid-19

Some in hard-hit sectors turn to temporary jobs such as safe distancing ambassadors

Employed by Enterprise Singapore, these safe distancing ambassadors conduct daily surveillance checks at 92 shopping malls across Singapore.

For the past three weeks, Mr Richard Lim and his wife have been sleeping in separate rooms.

He heads straight for the shower when he returns from work and interacts with members of his household mainly through text messages.

Mr Lim, 52, who works as a tour manager, signed up to be a safe distancing ambassador with Enterprise Singapore (ESG) earlier this month, after the travel industry came to a halt.

"After I got this job, I immediately texted everyone in my family: Stay safe, stay home and avoid me, because I (will be) exposed," Mr Lim told The Straits Times yesterday.

He patrols Jurong Point mall five to six days a week.

Some workers who have had their jobs disrupted by the Covid-19 outbreak are making ends meet through temporary jobs that have been created by the pandemic. Such roles include safe distancing ambassadors and temperature screeners.

Despite the risks that come with being front-line workers, they say they want to do their part in battling Covid-19.

ESG has 450 safe distancing ambassadors at the moment, most of whom were recruited from hard-hit industries, such as tourism and retail. Together with enforcement officers, they conduct daily surveillance checks at 92 shopping malls across Singapore and ensure that businesses and individuals comply with safe distancing measures.

Ms Juliet Isabella, a freelance school trainer, found herself out of work when schools here moved to home-based learning on April 8.

Said Ms Isabella, who is in her 30s: "When that happened, the option of giving tuition also came to mind. I can still continue to teach students, but I think being a safe distancing ambassador gives me a different kind of rewarding experience."

The Singapore Tourism Board has also worked with the Society of Tourist Guides (Singapore) to deploy 56 tourist guides to conduct safe distancing checks in Chinatown, Little India and Orchard Road during the circuit breaker period.

Mr Richard Lim, who works as a tour manager, signed up to be a safe distancing ambassador with Enterprise Singapore earlier this month, after the travel industry came to a halt. He now patrols Jurong Point mall five to six days a week.
Mr Richard Lim, who works as a tour manager, signed up to be a safe distancing ambassador with Enterprise Singapore earlier this month, after the travel industry came to a halt. He now patrols Jurong Point mall five to six days a week. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

The Straits Times understands that safe distancing ambassadors, appointed by various government agencies, are paid up to $2,500 a month.

Mr Howard Lim, 59, a tourist guide of 32 years, is among those who took up the job.

 
 
 
 

"The pay is one part, but at least we have something to do to occupy ourselves," he said. "Many guides say they stay home and don't know what to do. We are always outdoors."

Walking the streets of Little India has given him a new appreciation for the diversity of cultures and cuisines contained within the precinct, he added.

Fellow tourist guide John Tan has been working as a temperature screener in Changi Airport since early February.

The hordes of passengers who once weaved through its terminals have vanished in recent weeks, said Mr Tan, 55.

"Some flights arrive with one passenger," he said.

Mr Tan, who earned more than $2,000 last month working four days a week, said he is likely to make less this month as his work days have been cut to three a week.

"I have some savings to live on. My father, who has dementia, stays at a home that costs more than $3,000 a month, so having a job helps," he said, adding that he splits the fees with his two siblings.

Working on the front line, having to wear masks for long hours and dealing with unruly behaviour are challenging, but the skills these workers bring from their previous jobs have come in handy.

Said Mr Richard Lim: "I deal with people from all walks of life - it's a passion... so when I go about doing this job, it's just like second nature to me."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2020, with the headline 'Workers take on front-line roles amid job disruption'. Subscribe