Saturday, 3 July 2021

Workplace COVID-19 vaccination: Singapore employers should not make vaccination a must, but may do so for staff in higher-risk settings

Ministry of Manpower will investigate employers who fire staff who decline to be vaccinated, or threaten to do so
By Choo Yun Ting and Jolene Ang, The Straits Times, 3 Jul 2021

Employers should not make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for staff or penalise those who decline to get vaccinated.

They can, however, make vaccination a requirement for employees working in higher-risk settings.

Employers may impose this vaccination requirement at the point of recruitment for new hires who have to work in settings with a higher risk of Covid-19 infection. However, they cannot fire staff who decline vaccination, though they can deploy them elsewhere or have a differentiated leave policy for them.

These guidelines were outlined in an advisory issued by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) yesterday, as Singapore looks to accelerate its vaccination drive.

The Republic is targeting having two-thirds of its population fully vaccinated by National Day on Aug 9.

While employers should not make Covid-19 vaccination compulsory, they should strongly encourage and facilitate medically eligible staff to get inoculated, the advisory said.

They may also ask their workers for their vaccination status for business purposes such as business continuity planning, but staff who decline vaccination should not be penalised, the advisory said.


MOM, NTUC and SNEF stressed that employers should also never terminate or threaten to terminate an employee's service on the basis of declining vaccination.

Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon said in a Facebook post that the ministry will investigate such incidents if reported.

However, employers may require vaccination as a company policy in higher-risk employ-ment settings, where staff have a higher chance of exposure to Covid-19, live in a communal environment or operate in a place which does not allow for safe management measures to be effective or carried out.

This includes workers who live in dormitories, those who are in regular contact with Covid-19 patients, air crew, and those in the construction, marine and process sectors.

A useful way to assess a higher-risk setting is whether the worker is required to undergo rostered routine testing, mandated fast and easy testing, or is in regular contact with known Covid-19 cases, the advisory said.

Staff working in higher-risk settings who decline to get vaccinated can be deployed to other suitable jobs that carry a lower risk of Covid-19 infection, it added.


Dr Koh pointed out that there may also be workers in high-risk job roles who may be medically unsuitable for vaccination.

"Employers should exempt them from the company policy for vaccination but may still want to discuss with these workers suitable alternatives to minimise their risk of Covid-19 infections," he added.

However, if workers who decline vaccination rack up costs related to Covid-19 - such as testing or stay-home notice (SHN) accommodation expenses - the employers can recover the extra amount spent on them.

Staff who decline to get vaccinated may also face a differentiated leave policy, compared with their vaccinated colleagues. For example, they may be put on no-pay leave for the duration of any SHN they may have to serve.


Employers who make Covid-19 vaccination a requirement should also provide affected employees with additional paid sick leave to support their recovery from any immediate medical complications arising from vaccination.

They should also exempt staff who are deemed unsuitable for vaccination or not yet scheduled for their jabs from the vaccination requirement in higher-risk settings, the advisory said.









COVID-19 vaccinations: Dos and don'ts for employers and staff
By Jolene Ang, The Straits Times, 3 Jul 2021

The tripartite partners - the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress and Singapore National Employers Federation - on Friday (July 2) issued a set of guidelines and advice on how to tackle Covid-19 vaccinations in an employment setting.

For employers

Dos:

- Provide paid time off to employees for Covid-19 vaccination, including any mandatory observation period after vaccination if the vaccinations are done during working hours.

- Consider granting additional time off for employees to rest if they experience side effects. Most side effects will ease within three days. Employees who suffer severe side effects from vaccination should seek medical attention and apply for sick leave, but for employees who do not have sufficient sick leave, do exercise compassion and flexibility.

- Continue to observe safe management measures at workplaces, including paying special attention to vulnerable employees, such as those aged 60 and above.

- Take appropriate measures to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection for such vulnerable employees even if they have received the vaccination. Such measures include allowing them to work from home, or to travel to or from work at off-peak times, or temporarily redeploying them to lower-risk roles within the company.

- Offer paid sick leave to employees who test positive for Covid-19, and exercise compassion and flexibility for such employees who do not have sufficient sick leave.

- Approach MOM for further advice if there are claims to be made under the Work Injury Compensation Act for serious side effects from vaccination.

Don'ts:

- Do not terminate or threaten to terminate the service of an employee on the grounds of declining vaccination. Employers who have imposed a company policy that requires vaccination for employees in higher-risk employment settings, may, in consultation with the unions if applicable, redeploy employees who decline vaccination to another job with lower risk of Covid-19 infection.

- Do not segregate vaccinated employees from non-vaccinated employees. There is no need for this if employers adhere to the safe management measures for all employees.




For employees

Dos:

- Get vaccinated when offered a slot by the Ministry of Health.

- Employers may introduce a company policy to require vaccination to minimise the risk of outbreaks, for those who work in an employment setting that exposes them to a higher risk of Covid-19. Discuss with your employer why your employment setting has been deemed to be at higher risk of Covid-19 infection, if you do not agree with the assessment. If you are unable to reach an agreement, you may approach MOM for further advice.







Employers, business groups welcome COVID-19 vaccination advisory
But some say it's too early to decide on redeployment or differentiated leave policies based on jab status
By Jolene Ang and Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 3 Jul 2021

Employers and business associations yesterday welcomed a set of guidelines on how to tackle Covid-19 vaccinations at the workplace.

The advisory was issued by tripartite partners the Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF).

One key guideline for employers is that they should not make vaccination mandatory for staff.

However, those in higher-risk settings may make vaccination a requirement as part of company policy. In such cases, employers can adopt several measures for staff who decline vaccination, such as redeploying them to other suitable jobs with lower risk of Covid-19 infection.

However, terms and conditions for redeployment should be mutually agreed upon between bosses and staff if there are no existing redeployment policies within the organisation.


The SNEF cautioned that implementing a vaccination requirement as company policy "carries with it additional obligations".

"Employers should consider the specific circumstances that they are faced with and the implications before implementing such a policy," the federation said in a Facebook post yesterday.

Singapore Business Federation chief executive Lam Yi Young said the majority of employers are likely to find the advisory helpful.

"These guidelines will help employers better prepare their workplaces to ensure the safety and health of their employees, and ultimately pave the way for workplaces in a post-pandemic world," he told The Straits Times.

Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said that employers and employees generally recognise the health and safety benefits which getting vaccinated affords.

"For exceptions where employees do not want to go for vaccination, I am sure that employers will not and should not force it on them," he said.

But given that some front-line jobs involve a lot of social interaction, employers may have a preference for vaccinated employees to take on these roles.

In such a situation, redeployment of staff may be necessary to manage their operational risks, Mr Wee said, noting that the association supports such redeployment decisions, if needed.


Some employers told ST that it may be too early to decide between redeploying staff or practising differentiated leave policies based on vaccination status, which could involve putting those who choose not to be vaccinated on no-pay leave if they have to serve stay-home notice, for example.

Mr George Kokkinis, general manager of Greek restaurant Bakalaki, said over half of its 30-odd employees have been vaccinated. The rest have registered for their jabs.

"In my opinion, vaccination should be mandatory for someone who wants to work in food and beverage. If a cook doesn't want to be vaccinated, we can't assign him to do something different," he said.

A mechanical engineering graduate who wanted to be known only as Mr Yeo, 25, said that as a job seeker, it was good to have clearer guidelines on what firms can make mandatory.

"Hopefully, if employers put differentiated leave policies in place, these will not be too harsh, and it is something I think my peers will also be more mindful of when we are looking for jobs," he said, adding that he has yet to book his vaccination slots.

"I think it is fair that employers can make it mandatory for staff in higher-risk settings to be vaccinated, especially if it helps to minimise disruptions to work operations," he added.

A spokesman for the Singapore Contractors Association Limited said a high vaccination rate will be a key condition for any relaxation of safe management measures and the testing regime currently in place at worksites.


NTUC assistant secretary-general Desmond Choo said in a Facebook post yesterday that the tripartite advisory will serve as a guide for employers and employees in dealing with the new normal, as more people get vaccinated.

"Both employers and employees must maintain constant and transparent communication so that we can build the necessary resilience at workplaces. We have a social responsibility in keeping each other safe," he said.





*  Differentiation still needed for Sinovac COVID-19 jab recipients, may be removed as more are vaccinated: Health Minister Ong Ye Kung
Those who took Sinovac jab will still be excluded from perks
More inclusive steps can be taken with more vaccine data and when more are vaccinated
By Clara Chong and Toh Ting Wei, The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2021

People who received the Sinovac Covid-19 jab continue to be excluded from perks like testing exemptions as there is insufficient data to show how effective the Chinese jab is against the Delta strain, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.

Mr Ong said there must also be a differentiation between those who received the Sinovac jab and who took the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines under the national vaccination programme, when Singapore hits the milestone of having half of its population fully vaccinated.

The multi-ministry taskforce on Covid-19, which Mr Ong co-chairs, yesterday outlined how restrictions could be further eased for fully vaccinated individuals when this milestone is reached - possibly by the end of the month.

For instance, those fully vaccinated could dine in groups of eight at eateries. But people who got the Sinovac vaccine will not qualify.


"But once we reach an even higher level of vaccine coverage, we will have stronger herd protection, which means vaccine effectiveness may be less of a factor," Mr Ong said. "And therefore, in time, we should be able to also be more inclusive in allowing vaccinated people or some partially vaccinated or unvaccinated people to participate in bigger events."

People who have received the Sinovac vaccine are not included in Singapore's national vaccination tally, MOH said on Tuesday. Only those vaccinated with the Moderna and Pfizer/Comirnaty vaccines are counted. As of July 3, one dose of the Sinovac vaccine has been given to 17,296 people.

However, MOH said those who have received the Sinovac vaccine will have the record reflected in the National Immunisation Registry. It is working on showing the information in the HealthHub mobile app.

The Sinovac vaccines arrived here on Feb 23, but the vaccine has not been approved for use in the national vaccination programme. The Chinese drugmaker has not submitted data which the government needs to complete its evaluation of the vaccine's safety and efficacy. Sinovac is being administered here under the Special Access Route in order to enhance overall vaccination coverage. A total of 31 private clinics have been selected to administer it.


Mr Ong noted that people have opted for Sinovac as they cannot or are uncomfortable with taking mRNA vaccines, but added that they, too, are contributing to Singapore's resilience.

"Unfortunately, when we consult the experts, there's just not enough data to show how effective Sinovac is against Delta," he said. "I hope this data will emerge soon and allow us to make an assessment."

The Sinovac vaccine has shown variable protection across multiple studies carried out internationally, with the most complete analysis showing an efficacy of 51 per cent. In contrast, the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty vaccines have shown an efficacy rate of around 90 per cent.

Those who received either one or two doses of the mRNA vaccine under the national vaccination programme are not eligible to receive the Sinovac vaccine from the Government's stock, unless they were allergic to the first dose of an mRNA vaccine, MOH said.

Those who had allergic reactions can opt to get the Sinovac jab, but only at a public hospital clinic. Clinics administering the jab are required to report adverse events or reactions to the ministry and the Health Sciences Authority (HSA).


Mr Ong said in a written parliamentary reply on Tuesday that two non-serious adverse events have been reported as at June 29.

Separately, the task force said the National Centre for Infectious Diseases and the MOH recently did a study of about 1,000 household contacts of Covid-19 cases between September last year and end-May and found that the efficacy of the mRNA vaccines against the Delta variant is 69 per cent.







Taking mRNA vaccines after getting Sinovac
The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2021

Those who have taken the Sinovac vaccine or other types of vaccines, and still wish to take the mRNA vaccines under Singapore's national vaccination programme can do so, though data on the effectiveness of this strategy of using two different vaccines is still lacking.

These people can be those who have taken the Sinovac vaccines locally or returning Singaporeans who have received doses of a different vaccine elsewhere.


The authorities will advise them that evidence is not available concerning how well the response would be if they had received other vaccines beforehand, and these individuals will have to weigh the pros and cons before proceeding.

"There are some theoretical benefits that may suggest that they would get good results. But there isn't much real-world data available to confirm this," said Singapore's director of medical services Kenneth Mak yesterday.




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