A 60-year-old pest control technician was charged with one count of exposing others to the risk of infection of COVID-19 under the Infectious Diseases Act, after he refused to take medical leave. He was subsequently jailed for five weeks.
The sequence of events
- The man suffered from an upper respiratory tract infection and was advised by the doctor to take a COVID-19 swab test and stay home pending the outcome of the PCR test.
- If he did not want the swab test, had to take five days of medical leave.
- He refused both options because he would have to forfeit his $100 attendance allowance if he went on MC.
- He then left the clinic, and on that very day, visited five locations to inspect rodent infestations.
- He also had lunch with his colleagues in a van.
Reactions to his case were mixed and aplenty. Most agreed that he was irresponsible to refuse medical leave and potentially expose others to his virus. However, many were empathetic to his situation, including President Madam Halimah.
In her Facebook post, she said, “$100 for someone who earns $1,500 a month with a family to feed is a lot of money that can be used to purchase necessities. Incentivizing workers to work even when sick, can be dangerous too for those operating machines as it exposes them and others to injury.”
Her full post ahead:
Before becoming President, Madam Halimah held multiple positions in NTUC and served as the labour movement’s Deputy Secretary-General. She also sat on the Ministerial Committee on Low Wage Workers. This committee was set up in 2005 to recommend measures to improve employability and income security for low-wage workers and help families break out of the poverty cycle.
So what is an attendance allowance? Is it necessary, even appropriate, in this current pandemic climate?
What is attendance allowance?
Attendance allowance is the practice of incentivizing employees to take less medical leave. This productivity incentive payment is a common practice in workplaces here. According to the MOM website, such incentives are designed to increase productivity or reward employees for their contributions.
However, the practice to ‘dangle a carrot’ such as this can create a detrimental effect on workers who live hand-to-mouth. Even before the pandemic, low-wage earners and their households had been substantially affected by Covid-19. To them, missing out on an incentive payment has more significant consequences to their day-to-day situation, and this fear may cloud their judgment. To them, it could be a case of “desperate times calls for desperate measures.”
Thus, such practice has come under intense scrutiny in the last two years.
In his written answer to WP’s Mr. Louis Chua on ‘Regulations Governing Use of Number of Days of Sick,’ Minister for Manpower Dr. Tan See Leng stated, “Employers should adopt fair and objective appraisal or performance management systems that take into consideration the employee’s overall ability, performance, and contributions. The tripartite partners have consensus that using an employee’s consumption of paid sick leave as a key performance indicator for the whole year is inappropriate.’
In her Facebook post, Madam Halimah wrote, “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. “
Many resonated and agreed with her. However, the truth is, changes like this require time. Meanwhile, what else can we do to better support workers in a similar predicament?
Are low-wage workers aware of the various schemes available that can support them in their times of need?
In this health crisis, taking medical leave has significant positive effects on public health by helping reduce the spread of COVID-19 at workplaces. However, when sick, workers must be socially responsible and their medical leave. Employers, too, must play their part and be more flexible and fairer by not using medical leave records as a key performance indicator.
Editing is my work.