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'Not fair' for employers to deprive workers of allowance when they take sick leave due to COVID-19: President Halimah

'Not fair' for employers to deprive workers of allowance when they take sick leave due to COVID-19: President Halimah
FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker dressed in personal protective equipment collects a nasal swab sample for COVID-19 in Singapore on Apr 27, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: It is not fair for employers to deprive workers of an attendance allowance when they go on sick leave due to COVID-19 or while waiting for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test results amid the current pandemic, said President Halimah Yacob.

“For companies that pay such an attendance allowance, what they wish to deter is abuse of sick leave and not penalise those who are genuinely sick by depriving them of the payment,” she said in a Facebook post on Tuesday (Jan 18).

Her comments came after a pest control technician was sentenced on Tuesday to five weeks’ jail for potentially exposing the public to the COVID-19 virus.

A Rahim M Taha, 60, had gone to the doctor for severe coughing in October 2020.

However, he refused the swab test and medical leave he was told to take, telling the doctor that he would have to forfeit a S$100 work incentive from his company if he did so. The incentive was to be paid on top of the S$1,500 basic salary he made as a team supervisor at a pest control company, the court heard.

He then went on to work the following day, going on job calls at five locations in seven hours. During this time, he also had lunch with colleagues in his van.

In her post, Madam Halimah said while the man’s action is “without a doubt irresponsible” due to the risk of infection to others if he was COVID-19 positive, the case also highlighted "another common employment practice that can be detrimental to workers”.

“In order to earn the extra attendance allowance, workers may refuse to take sick leave even when they are unwell, particularly for low wage workers,” she said.

She also noted that “S$100 for someone who earns S$1500 a month with a family to feed is a lot of money that can be used to purchase necessities”.

“Incentivising workers to work even when sick can be dangerous too for those operating machines as it exposes them and others to injury,” she said.

“The real solution is to make sure that low wage workers are paid better so that they don’t have to depend on such incentives to survive.”

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Source: CNA/ga(rw)