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Firms must protect older staff working outdoors: Manpower Minister

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Employers should be sensitive when older workers voice concerns about continuing to work outside and take steps to ensure that they are protected.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo made the call when asked about the potential conflict between the Government's advice for seniors to stay home and the many older workers who are still out earning their keep.

Speaking at a virtual press conference yesterday, she said that employers should be sympathetic to older workers in essential services who are worried about being outdoors.

Where telecommuting arrangements cannot be worked out, employers should redeploy these workers in roles that require minimal interaction with others, she added.

If that is not possible, then employers must make sure these workers are given "adequate protection", such as masks that all essential workers should have, and keep them updated on the company's latest protocols amid the elevated safe distancing measures.

But the minister also laid out two other possibilities, in case the employer and the concerned worker cannot come to an agreement.

First, the worker can choose to clear his or her leave and continue to be paid.

Once this leave is exhausted, the employer and the worker will have to find new arrangements - a "mutual consensus" that may include a period of no pay.

The issue of older workers doing front-line work has come under the spotlight, with a petition lobbying SMRT to stop using them to direct commuters at MRT stations.

The week-old online petition on change.org has garnered more than 5,000 signatures.

The petition, Protect Our Senior Citizens Working At All MRT Stations During Covid-19, was started by Insyirah Zakariah.

DISAGREE

Not all who visited the page agreed with the notion.

A Heng Wah Kheng wrote: "I'm not signing because a lot of these folks are very healthy and they enjoy their work. Who are you to tell them not to work?"

A John Tan commented: "Protecting these front-line staff does not mean sacrificing their pay if SMRT can be flexible enough to have its service ambassadors look after passengers remotely."

SMRT chief executive Neo Kian Hong said the company would discuss options with any employees who face difficulty in their roles, including those who have pre-existing medical conditions.

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