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COVID-19 swabbers employed on short-term contracts with no additional bonuses, career pathways: MOH

COVID-19 swabbers employed on short-term contracts with no additional bonuses, career pathways: MOH

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: Swabbers and swabbing assistants are employed on short-term contracts that do not include any additional allowances, bonuses or career progression pathways, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Friday (May 15). 

The Health Promotion Board (HPB), with the assistance of the National Trades Union Congress’ (NTUC) Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), is hiring swabbers and swabbing assistants to support the wider COVID-19 testing efforts in Singapore.

Those hired will conduct tests, such as the swabbing of foreign workers in dormitories for COVID-19.  

In response to media queries, MOH said these roles do not provide any progression pathways, unlike full-time healthcare professional roles in the public healthcare system. It also does not include any additional allowances or bonuses.

On Thursday, Facebook user HongYu Sim, who said she was a nurse with 11 years of experience, wrote that she was "really appalled" at how much "non-healthcare background people" are paid compared to healthcare workers.

In her Facebook post, which is no longer publicly available, she claimed that the average nursing graduate receives a basic salary of S$1,900 in their first year and that after five to six years, the basic salary "has not even reached S$3,800".

"And yet, people with no healthcare background gets a 3.4k/3.8k (pay) immediately," she wrote.

“I do understand and accept that there’s higher risks involved in this application and also appreciate those who stepped forward to do this. However I really want to highlight the under carpet issue of salary differences,” she added. 

READ: Like a 'giant N95 mask': Safer, faster COVID-19 testing of migrant workers with new mobile swab station

On Friday, MOH said: “The average gross monthly salary, after adding in allowances and bonuses, for entry-level registered nurses ranges from S$3,300 to S$5,200 depending on their qualifications.

"They are also eligible for annual salary increments as well as training opportunities to upskill themselves and develop a lifelong career as a nurse clinician, educator or leader in the healthcare sector."

According to the recruitment details shared on the e2i website, interested candidates who want to become swabbers or swabbing assistants must have a minimum of a N-Level qualification or attained a Level 5 in Workplace Literacy and Numeracy (WPLN). 

They should also be medically fit with no history of chronic diseases and be proficient in English and a mother tongue. Fluency in dialect is considered a bonus.

The stipulated working hours involve rotating six working days per week over a period of six months, with an option to extend for another three months. 

READ: New COVID-19 test developed in Singapore detects past infection within an hour

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin shared a recruitment poster on his Facebook page on Thursday that laid out the details of the jobs. 

According to the poster, those recruited will work as a swab assistant at a salary of S$3,400 per month. They will then undergo on-the-job training and assessment before converting into a swabber, and will then earn S$3,800 per month. 

"The jobs scene will be of concern as the COVID impact on the economy begins to bite," wrote Mr Tan.

“It will begin to get even more serious. But we are at the same time looking at creating new job opportunities. Some will be a temporary relief option while some may be more structural for the long haul. 

“Do look out for and share these opportunities with those who may need it for now. This is one small slice in a bigger effort to create more new jobs, temporal or for the longer term."

Member of Parliament Sun Xueling, who also shared the recruitment poster on Facebook, said the job will entail risks, so training will be provided and swabbers and swab assistants will wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and masks. 

“This job is not suitable for those who have existing medical conditions, and who are senior in age due to being more vulnerable to COVID-19,” she added. 

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo on Thursday urged the public to not be "overly alarmed" that the number of COVID-19 cases in Singapore remained elevated because of “comprehensive testing" among migrant workers.

All 323,000 foreign workers staying in these dorms will be tested to ensure they are virus-free before resuming work, National Development Minster Lawrence Wong had announced on Tuesday.

The Government will also pay for a one-time COVID-19 swab test for all teaching and non-teaching staff at pre-schools in order to reduce the risk of transmission when centres resume full services.

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Source: CNA/zl(mi)

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