The Prime Minister’s wife lashed out at employers who are not only causing the bottleneck at general practitioner clinics but were also putting others at risk.
Ho Ching, the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Director of Temasek Trust called on all employers, HR managers and staff, work supervisors to not ask their staff to go get a medical certificate (MC) after testing ART+.
She described the practice as purely bureaucratic and administrative, done just so that employers have a proper documentary record of illness. She asked employers to work on an honor system, and trust their employees to do their DIY ART at home, mark their test cartridge with their name, date and time, and send a photo of their results.
Alternatively, she suggested employers could have their own supervised DIY test – set up a booth for a supervisor, to witness the staff doing the test and observe the results for themselves including taking a photo – or they could do this over zoom, WhatsApp or whatever suitable remote video method.
Another way would be to send the employee to a quick test centre to do a supervised self test, she suggested.
She slammed employers who asked their workers to go to GPs, polyclinics or the hospital A&Es for additional tests.
“This brings more infectious nodes into places with many other potentially highly vulnerable people seeking serious medical attention. That is unconscionable and irresponsible to put a known ART+ employee into a setting where there are lots of patients, who are sick, frail, and more vulnerable than the general population (because) their immune system is likely to be down when they are sick, old or frail and needing medical attention.”
Social media users who responded to the Prime Minister’s comments on Facebook asked why the labour union NTUC was not speaking up for the workers on this issue. Others asked if Temasek Holdings practices what it preaches and not ask employees for MCs when they are sick.
In 2018, before the Covid-19 pandemic hit our shores, then-Nominated Member of Parliament Irene Quay called on the Government to encourage employers to allow their employees to take up to three days of non-consecutive sick leave each year without submitting medical certificates (MCs).
She noted that a vast number of companies have still not adopted such a trust-based honour sick leave system, and still require employees to produce a MC when taking sick leave. She also suggested creating “controls such as audit and provisions” to prevent people from abusing this trust system. Quay suggested that the benefits from this practice outweigh the “small number of abuse cases”.
Then-Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said that controls like audits add to business costs for companies. She however added that companies are free to embrace such a practice should they want to.
“As the Employment Act does not prohibit employers from (recognising sick leave without MC), progressive companies are free to go ahead to offer this as part of their talent attraction and retention strategies.”
HR experts have previously said that the fear of employees malingering and abusing the system seems to be a common concern that holds back employers from exploring an honour system in Singapore.