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A high price to pay for some unvaccinated workers, ahead of new rule barring them from workplaces

SINGAPORE — Barely a day after the Government announced late last month that unvaccinated employees will be barred from their workplaces from Jan 15 even with a negative Covid-19 test result, Mr Syuk was informed by his employer that his services would be terminated because he has, by choice, not been vaccinated.

A high price to pay for some unvaccinated workers, ahead of new rule barring them from workplaces

The livelihoods of some unvaccinated persons could be affected from Jan 15, 2022, when the latest coronavirus-vaccine-related safety regulations come into force.

  • From Jan 15, unvaccinated workers will not be allowed to return to their workplace even with a negative Covid-19 test result
  • Some people said they have already lost their jobs because they are not vaccinated
  • Others said they could lose their jobs when the new rule is enforced
  • Some employers interviewed said they would not hire unvaccinated candidates unless they are suited for roles that can be done from home

SINGAPORE — Barely a day after the Government announced late last month that unvaccinated employees will be barred from their workplaces from Jan 15 even with a negative Covid-19 test result, Mr Syuk was informed by his employer that his services would be terminated because he has, by choice, not been vaccinated.

The 37-year-old contract worker said that in a virtual meeting with the company on Dec 27, he was told that the firm would have to terminate him because of the government announcement.

His homemaker wife, Ms Sha, 35, said: “What he is earning has been sufficient to pay our bills and the mortgage for our flat (with the Housing and Development Board). We have no savings and going through this is a huge test for us.”

The couple spoke to TODAY over the phone. They declined to give their full names or the name of Mr Syuk’s employer because they were worried that it would jeopardise his remaining income. His final day of employment is Jan 16.

For the same reason, Mr Syuk also declined to specify his occupation, but his job in the energy industry involves working mostly outdoors on various premises. 

The father of five is among unvaccinated persons whose livelihoods could be affected come Jan 15 when the latest vaccine-related safety regulations come into force.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) stated last week that there are about 52,000 employees in Singapore who have not taken any Covid-19 vaccine.

Right now, these workers are required to pay for their own pre-event Covid-19 test at a service provider approved by the Ministry of Health (MOH) before entering their workplace with a negative result. 

From Jan 15, however, a negative test result will not be recognised.

Mr Syuk, who has been earning a monthly average of S$2,500, said that he and his wife do not want to be vaccinated because they are worried about the side effects and believe that their bodies can build a natural immunity to the coronavirus.

Mr Syuk said that he had asked his employer to put him on no-pay leave instead, in the hope that the Government might eventually change its stance.

But his company, which has engaged him as an independent contractor for four years, rejected his request.

An advisory issued by MOM on Oct 23 stated that it would not be considered wrongful dismissal if unvaccinated employees are terminated because they are unable to be at their workplace to perform their contracted work.

Ms Sha said that the future was uncertain for the family and it would be difficult for her husband to find alternative employment, since other employers would likely require him to be vaccinated.

The family is thinking of ways to find other sources of income. They are considering moving out of their flat so that they can lease it for rental income.

Apart from Mr Syuk, there is Ms Jaime Wong, the head coach of Ignite Tennis Academy, who is also not vaccinated against Covid-19.

While other coaches at the tennis academy will continue to run their regular lessons, she potentially stands to lose her current students on Jan 15. 

She did not specify how many students she teaches or her potential loss of income, but said that she typically works more than 30 hours a week.

Ms Wong said that she had clarified with national sports governing body Sport Singapore (SportSG) that the MOM rule change means that she cannot coach in schools or in private settings, such as private and public courts, unless she is vaccinated.

The latest SportSG advisory on infection controls also states that from Feb 1, only vaccinated persons can enter indoor sports and fitness facilities. 

In response to queries from TODAY, SportSG said that vaccination measures mandated by MOM will also apply to self-employed persons, which include sports coaches. They must adhere to the measures regardless of the premises they are coaching at.

Ms Wong said that she feels like she is being “punished” for exercising her voluntary choice not to be immunised.

While she is not medically exempted from Covid-19 vaccination, she said that she has an autoimmune disorder and does not want to risk suffering adverse effects after taking the vaccine.

She has put up an online petition calling on the Government to “remove or recalibrate” the new workplace rule since it would affect people’s livelihoods.

The petition was published on Jan 1 on the Change.org website and has more than 4,400 signatures as of Wednesday (Jan 5) evening.

I really don’t have a back-up plan per se, but there’s lots of fear. Everyone’s fear is loss of income. It’s a very big thing and we all have our bills to pay.
Mrs Dorothy Xavier, 51, who is unvaccinated against Covid-19 and working as an administrator at an insurance agency

Several other unvaccinated workers interviewed by TODAY said that they have yet to hear from their management, with some hoping that they can make alternative work arrangements with their company.

Mrs Dorothy Xavier, 51, who has been working as an administrator at an insurance agency for about 10 years, said that her company has asked for her vaccination status and she thinks there is “a high possibility” that she could be asked to leave.

Mrs Xavier, who does not want to take the vaccine because she doubts that it is safe, is worried about the potential loss of income and does not think that her husband’s sole income would be able to support their family of six.

She is also unsure if she can secure another job if her present one is terminated, since future employers would likely require her to be vaccinated.

"I really don’t have a back up plan per se but there’s lots of fear. Everyone’s fear is loss of income. It’s a very big thing and we all have our bills to pay," she added.

Another employee, who wanted to be known only as Ms Chin, said that she is hoping that her company would shift her to a position that allows her to work from home.

Ms Chin, who is in her 50s, works as a salesperson. While most of her sales is done over the phone, she is unable to perform her role at home because of privacy concerns over customer data.

She will try to find online-based work such as online sales or training if she is terminated from her job, she added.

Mr Adriel Lazarus, 41, a truck driver for a logistics firm, said that he is “prepared to be terminated if it comes to that”, but he will try every means to negotiate with his employers before that happens.

He added that he is mostly on the road and travels alone when at work.

If he is sacked, he will “think of other ways to feed (himself)”, he said.

For Mr Jagjit Singh, who had to switch to becoming a full-time private-hire car driver in 2020 after his event management company was hit by the Covid-19 crisis, the latest rule is another blow to his efforts to keep financially afloat during the pandemic.

He had been taking courses with a view to getting a job as a security officer, but this is no longer viable with the new rule.

The sole breadwinner for a family of four said: “I am really lost. I have no options.”

He does not want to take the Covid-19 vaccine because he is concerned about its safety and reliability.

“I just hope that the multi-ministry task force can really reconsider its position because it is not just about the vaccine status anymore. This policy has the potential to wreck people’s livelihoods and lives,” Mr Singh added.

WHAT EMPLOYERS SAY

Three employers interviewed by TODAY said that they have not had to let go of their staff members because all were vaccinated even before the Government’s announcement on Dec 26. Nevertheless, they said that the new rule would affect their hiring policy when it comes to job applicants who are unvaccinated.  

One of them, Mr Kelvyn Chee, director of apparel retailer Decks, said that his company would not hire unvaccinated workers in future because they would have to work from home and this would limit their ability to communicate with other employees and affect productivity. 

Mr Ken Lin, managing director of Kawarin Enterprise, a steel servicing and processing company, said that it would hire candidates who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons but are well-suited for the role, and the firm would allow them to work from home.

Ms Sarah Audrea, regional brand manager of footwear company Aldo, said that the company would not hire unvaccinated people unless the job that they are applying for can be done from home.

In its advisory updated on Dec 27, MOM stated again that unvaccinated employees, especially those who are older, would put "immense strain on our healthcare capacity in the coming months, if they contract Covid-19".

It added that the Government, unions and employers also "recognise the urgency to be able to sustain business activity as much as possible, in order to protect livelihoods". 

"A fully vaccinated workforce will be able to operate more safely and at much lower risk to employees’ lives," MOM said. "We must also be prepared to take stronger steps to protect those who, (for) medical reasons, cannot receive any vaccine."

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Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine vaccination workplace employer employee

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