Work pass privileges suspended after Singapore Ambulance Association failed to pay at least 15 Covid-19 vaccinators

At least 15 vaccinators said they had not been paid by Singapore Ambulance Association. ― TODAY pic
At least 15 vaccinators said they had not been paid by Singapore Ambulance Association. ― TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, Sept 16 — The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has suspended the work pass privileges of two men associated with the Singapore Ambulance Association (SAA) which had failed to pay at least 15 Covid-19 vaccinators their salaries.

In a joint statement, MOM and the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) said yesterday (September 15) that two individuals, Eugene Tok Yong Fa and Whey Zhen Hui, who are both associated with SAA, will be held accountable for the non-payment of the salaries.

TODAY reported in July that two companies that hired people to work as Covid-19 vaccinators and nurses — SAA and Megamanpower — were being investigated by the authorities after a group of these workers complained that they had not been paid over a month’s worth of salaries.

Recruitment agency Megamanpower had been hired by Parkway Shenton healthcare group to supply manpower after the latter won a Ministry of Health contract to provide Covid-19 vaccination services.

Workers were later told that Megamanpower and SAA were working together to provide the service to Parkway Shenton.

In response to queries from TODAY, Parkway Shenton said that it would be helping the affected workers by paying their salaries out of goodwill, even though they had already paid their subcontractors.

TODAY had spoken to six affected workers, who were owed up to S$4,000 each in unpaid salaries. Some of the workers have confirmed that they have been offered goodwill payments by Parkway Shenton.

MOM and TADM's statement said that as of Monday, all 15 vaccinators had their outstanding payments “settled” by Parkway Shenton. They encouraged any other unpaid vaccinators to come forward.

It also said: “MOM does not condone SAA’s irresponsible behaviour.”

“Based on our enquiries, we will be holding the following individuals accountable for the current situation: Mr Eugene Tok Yong Fa and Mr Whey Zhen Hui,” said MOM and TADM. “MOM will suspend their work pass privileges as well as for all their associated companies.”

They added that action may also be taken against a third individual, Dr Tan Ying Zhou, pending further investigations.

According to the business profile of SAA taken from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, Whey and Dr Tan are shareholders of the firm.

TODAY understands that Tok is also associated with SAA.

What happened

The vaccinators, most of whom are registered nurses, applied for the job when Megamanpower placed an advertisement in February this year seeking vaccinators and nurses to be supplied to Parkway Shenton.

When the vaccinators and nurses signed the employment contract, they noticed that SAA was named as their employer.

Some of the workers had told TODAY that they were confused by this, but when they asked about it, they were told by staff members from Megamanpower that the two companies were working together or even “pretty much the same” entity.

In June, the workers were then told by a representative of SAA that it was terminating their contracts and would pay them for work done up until June 8.

The vaccinators told TODAY that they had not been paid for their salaries in the month of May and the first week of June.

Almost three months on, four vaccinators whom TODAY followed up with said that they still had not been paid by SAA.

SAA missed final payment deadline

The MOM and TADM spokesman said that they had set a final deadline of September 11 to SAA to respond on the payment.

“Given that SAA has been uncooperative and persisted in not making payments after more than two months of engagement, TADM and the NTUC have worked behind the scenes to assist the 15 affected vaccinators,” the spokesman said.

Responding to queries from TODAY, Parkway Shenton chief executive officer Edmund Kwok said that its contract with Megapanpower had ceased in early June and the payment for all their invoices had been made.

“We are sad to hear that a small group of the vaccinators have still not been paid, and fully empathise with their predicament.”

“Out of goodwill, Parkway Shenton will help these affected individuals and pay them the salaries due to them by the rightful parties while the Ministry of Manpower resolves the ongoing dispute between them and the agency,” he said.

What SAA, Megamanpower said

Responding to queries from TODAY, an SAA spokesman said that it has paid some of the vaccinators the salaries they are owed, but will not do so for those who had attempted to pursue the matter through TADM.

The spokesman said that the payments “will not apply to the minority of the contractors who ill-advisedly chose to pursue the issue through TADM despite our explanation that we were taking all necessary steps to make payment”.

“This was in any event an inappropriate forum for the independent contractors who were not employees,” the spokesman said.

He added that there is an “ongoing dispute” between the two subcontractors, SAA and Megamanpower.

“SAA has been engaging in amicable negotiation with Megamanpower through solicitors to resolve the dispute,” the spokesman said.

As part of the process, funds will be advanced to SAA to be paid to the workers who are owed their salaries.

The spokesman also claimed that “a number of contractors” have already been paid but that some are still experiencing a delay in processing payment.

“We have apologised to them for this and explained that the delay arose from circumstances beyond the control of SAA, whereas the independent accountant administering the payments contracted Covid-19, resulting in admission to an isolation ward,” the spokesman said.

SAA added that it expects the payments to be completed by today.

When contacted, a Megamanpower representative reiterated that it had already paid SAA the workers’ salaries.

“If SAA is not paying, and I have already gone to MOM, and given my statement and evidence to them I really cannot do anything,” he said. “I’ve already done my part in paying.”

Workers relieved to get salaries, but hope that SAA is taken to task

Most of the vaccinators whom TODAY spoke to have been promised the goodwill payments by Parkway Shenton. They said they went to Singapore Mediation Centre on Monday to resolve the matter, and would be compensated the equivalent of what they are owed in seven to 10 working days.

For former vaccinator Kenneth Wong, who is owed about S$1,700, the news came as a relief.

“The main underlying issue is still the (errant) agency If this situation doesn’t get resolved there will be this kind of situation again in other companies,” the 21-year-old student said.

While another former vaccinator, Shahira Maszlan, was happy that she would receive the S$3,100 that was owed to her, she thinks that it is “unfair” that Parkway has had to pay double to resolve this situation.

“Something has to be done towards SAA for what they did to us,” the 24-year-old said.

However, another vaccinator, a senior staff nurse who declined to be named, said that she still has not received the over S$4,000 owed to her.

She did not reach out to TADM or the authorities, but had waited for SAA to update her on her owed salary.

“(SAA) asked me to wait and not to file any complaint,” she said. “I will call them and if they will not give the specific date and time (for repayment), then I will submit my claims to TADM.” ― TODAY

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