The current health crisis has not only been preventing us from traveling and gathering with our families and relatives. In some cases, it also prevents us from taking our work annual leave. This is especially true for frontline public healthcare workers and civil servants who have been working relentlessly since the pandemic began.
In Singapore, the government has given civil servants and public healthcare workers greater flexibility this year to clear their unused annual leave due to the Covid-19 situation. In an unprecedented, one-off move, they will get a longer period to clear their untaken leave as well as the option to encash part of it.
According to the Public Service Division (PSD), the new initiative will allow some 85,000 civil servants to carry forward half of 2019’s annual leave into 2021, if they have not used it by the end of 2020.
Currently, civil servants are not allowed to bring forward 2019’s annual leave to 2021. They can carry it over only to 2020 and the unused leave will be forfeited. If they still have remaining leave after carrying forward half of 2019’s leave to 2021, they can cash it in under the new policy. Encashing in this way was not allowed previously, the Straits Times reports.
Civil servants get up to 18 days of annual leave, while those who have worked in the civil service for more than 10 years have 21 days. “This is a one-off measure to recognise the efforts of our officers in fighting the Covid-19 situation, and as a result are unable to consume their accumulated vacation leave,” said PSD.
The division added that statutory boards are “strongly encouraged” to adopt similar measures for their officers too.
The Ministry of Health, which worked with public healthcare institutions on the policy, said public healthcare workers may not be able to fully utilise their annual leave entitlements this year as they have been working tirelessly on the front lines.
The Government’s new one-off leave policy, however, may not be applicable to the private sector.
Said Ms Linda Teo, country manager of ManpowerGroup Singapore: “Besides containing cost during the earlier stages of the pandemic, this also ensures private sector employers have enough manpower when the economy picks up.
“Moreover, unlike healthcare professionals, private sector workers are less restricted to travel overseas and would have more opportunities to utilise their leave once more travel bubbles are established.”
Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, also said the public service policy cannot be broadly applied to the private sector.
“Unlike those in essential services, operations for many private sector companies were disrupted during the circuit breaker and they experienced a decrease in demand for their products during this period. Some of them continue to face financial strains and may not be in the best position to give employees the broad flexibility in their leave,” he said.
Mr Wee added that the standard practice for annual leave in the private sector is the same as the public sector, which allows staff to carry it over partially to the next year.