Singapore’s recruitment call for swabbers and swab assistants provoked the issue of the discrepancy in salary between temporary swabbers and nurses, as the job posting offers S$3,400 to S$3,800 of monthly salary to individuals with no medical industry background or experience.
The recruitment call was advertised by the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) – an organisation under the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) – which came after the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced that it aims to ramp up the country’s COVID-19 testing capacity to 40,000 a day by later this year.
One nurse, Sim Hong Yu, took to Facebook on 14 May to speak up about the discrepancy of salary, saying that nursing graduates do not earn such amount of salary even after five to six years of working, while people with no medical background could earn up to S$3,800 of monthly salary in a short period.
Ms Sim’s post has since been taken down for unknown reason(s). But her statement on Facebook was praised by many frontline workers for speaking out about the issue. In fact, it even inspired many frontline workers to voice out their opinions on the matter as well.
A frontline worker who goes by the name Yee Yun on Facebook expressed that she felt “quite demoralised” upon knowing the job scope of care ambassadors and how much they are getting paid for it.
Another frontline worker, who has a Degree qualification in biomedical sciences and five years of laboratory-related job experiences, wrote that her current salary is not equivalent to her qualifications, as compared to her sister’s friend who has no medical background but earns S$3,000 of salary just to do the COVID-19 testings.
One nurse, with 10 years of experience in nursing and a Degree level of qualification, wrote that he was shocked to see the salary offered to swabbers.
“The Govt pays us peanuts”
One nurse indicated that the Government pays nurses “peanuts” which caused her to stop applying for a job at any Government-owned hospitals. She also asserted that nurses are treated like a maid and often looked down upon by people.
A healthcare worker, Victoria Anne Marilyn, claimed that some of her colleagues have been working for almost five years but their salaries are still below S$3,000. She added that healthcare workers work hard, get exposed to many diseases, always get shouted at, and sometimes are told to get off the train, but still earn “peanuts” salary.
A nurse also commented that nurses in Singapore “earn peanuts” which caused many Singaporean nurses to work in foreign countries rather than in their homeland.
“Nursing salary should be reviewed after the pandemic”
Besides that, another nurse, May Goh, supported Ms Sim’s statement, while stating that no changes have been made for the nurses’ wages in the past five years. Ms Goh claimed that the allowances given are merely for night and afternoon allowances, while some companies do not even offer Flexi-Benefit.
She stressed that nurses only want their salary to be reviewed genuinely and be fairly compensated. One person wrote that the Government was forced to pay more when they urgently need more manpower and not trying to downplay the contributions of healthcare workers.
However, the commenter agreed that healthcare workers’ compensation should be reviewed after the pandemic. Another frontline worker, HuiJin Goh, wrote that nurses are only getting more appreciation during the COVID-19 pandemic as people tend to forget that nurses don’t only work during such outbreaks. He noted that many departments in the healthcare sector have deployed their staff to the COVID-19 testing sites and are working in an extremely tight manpower situation with high-stress levels.
Mr Goh pointed out that the nursing salary was last reviewed in 2014, adding that it is time to review nursing salary again and reach the expectations of healthcare workers.
“Just because it’s a job to be ‘done from the heart’ doesn’t mean you give them horrible salaries”
Although swabbers should be compensated, Muhd Redha opined that the salary offered to swabbers is a “gross overpayment”. He hinted that only a small number of people will appreciate the contributions of nurses before the outbreak as it was more common to read complaints about nurses before.
According to him, the requirement to pay more tax was one of the arguments to keep such a low salary for nurses, and yet the Government can offer such a high salary for a job position that does not even cover “1/10th” of nurses’ work.
Mr Redha noted that the perception of nurses’ jobs is meant to be “done from the heart”, but a nurse’s job is never easy. He then remarked, “Just because it’s a job that’s supposed to be ‘done from the heart’ doesn’t mean you give them horrible salaries.”
“Increased pay and reduction in foreign nurses to 10% is possible if SMS Health takes it up”
One nurse, Yew Hui Phoa, pointed out that the nursing pay issue is compounded by three issues. These three issues include wage depression by cheap foreign labour; Singaporeans being less interested in the job; and less high skill nursing jobs that can offer good pay.
The nurse reflected on teachers’ salary which was increased 25 years ago due to the amount of workload and the complexity of the job. Ms Yew asked whether this can also be done for the nurses. She opined that it should be possible to have an increment for nurses and reduce the number of foreign nurses to 10 per cent.
Although it may be difficult as even the opposition parties have never voiced this issue, she wrote.
“Instead of deploying us, the Govt recruits inexperienced people to do the testings”
One frontline worker wrote that some of her colleagues are waiting to be deployed to the COVID-19 testing sites as volunteers without even getting any extra pay. She added that healthcare workers cannot take leave as they are required to be on standby.
But now, instead of deploying volunteers from the healthcare sector, the Government is recruiting “inexperienced” people to do the testings.
Healthcare workers want a pay raise, but given a show of solidarity instead
Frontline workers only deserve mass clapping and singing, not a pay raise, said some healthcare workers sarcastically. Additionally, one netizen wrote that he now understood why healthcare workers are “getting sick and tired” of all the shows of appreciation amid the pandemic. He noted that there is already little respect for nurses before the COVID-19 outbreak and now that the pandemic is happening, people are doing all the big shows of appreciation for nurses.
The netizen added that it is no surprise that frontline workers are beginning to speak up about the inequalities in treatment as they have pent-up frustration prior to the outbreak, while people think that these nurses should be grateful for what they have.
Some people justify swabbers’ high salary with its short term job and no benefits, but would it be fair for nurses with experience?
One netizen commented that a nursing job is a permanent job, whereas a swabber job is only temporary – which lasts for at least two months. He suggested hiring foreign workers to do the testing with S$40 a day.
A healthcare worker, Qai Taib, responded to the comment, asserting that some people justified the salary offered to swabbers with its short term job and no bonus or benefits. However, he called out the netizen to think if it is fair for a temporary worker with no experience to take his place at work and earn a higher pay. Mr Taib further explained that those who are not working in the healthcare sector will not understand. He added that healthcare workers are getting a lower salary compared to the people who work in other industries. Meanwhile, one netizen commented that the Government is urgently in need of people to do the testing, which explains such a high salary being offered.
In response to the comment, Ms Sim asserted that the issue of nurses being underpaid has been an ongoing issue, adding that it should be reviewed after the pandemic has ended.
“The Govt prides our healthcare workers on cheaper costs and it will never change”
One person commented that Singapore’s Government prides healthcare workers on cheaper costs and it will never change unless the mindset changes. He remarked, “But we cannot teach new tricks to an old dog.”
“Healthcare workers should get at least six to nine months of bonus this year”
Facebook user Christina Tay commented that she hopes healthcare workers will get at least six to nine months of bonus this year. However, some people opined that the Government may increase some cost after giving a bonus to healthcare workers.