MARUAH is concerned over the process and the reasons offered for terminating the services of Mr Roy Ngerng, a patient coordinator at the Communicable Diseases Centre at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH).
In TTSH’s Press Statement two reasons were cited for the termination. The first being that Mr Ngerng had used the hospital’s time and resources for personal interests and did not take heed of the warning letter given to him in May this year. The second reason was one of “conduct (that was) incompatible with the values and standards expected of employees”. While acknowledging that TTSH staff were free to pursue personal interests outside work, it was expected that “they must conduct themselves properly, honourably and with integrity” and “cannot defame someone else without basis, which essentially means knowingly stating a falsehood to the public.”
The Ministry of Health (MOH) also issued a Press Statement to support TTSH’s decision and to say that Mr Ngerng’s “actions show a lack of integrity and are incompatible with the values and standards of behaviour expected of hospital employees”.
MARUAH appreciates that TTSH as an employer has a right to haul up employees who do not spend their time on the work they were hired to do. Under Section 14(1) (a) and (b) of the Employment Act the employer has alternative approaches to dismissal including instantly downgrading the employee or suspending him without pay for a period of one week. In this case it was immediate termination after the warning letter issued one month prior. TTSH has not shared all the relevant information about the alternatives approaches it had considered for a public case such as this. We are not any clearer on the volume of time that Mr Ngerng spent on his ‘other’ interests and how the work at TTSH had suffered through incomplete projects or the off-loading of Mr Ngerng’s tasks to others in the office. It seems that in 2012-2013 TTSH had held up Mr Ngerng as a model employee for the dedicated work he was doing with people with HIV, putting him on a poster at public events organized by the hospital. So as an organization that believes in the importance of worker’s rights, MARUAH would like to ask TTSH to be more transparent and share information on the disproportionate amount time Mr Ngerng had spent on this ‘other’ interests and the impact on the work for TTSH; before he was issued with the Prime Minister’s letter of demand on his blog-postings.
MARUAH is gravely concerned over TTSH second reason for dismissal. It said that Mr Ngerng’s blog-posting had revealed a lack of integrity especially so because he had apologized to the Prime Minister for the defamatory remarks and removed them. Mr Ngerng is currently facing serious legal consequences for his actions. The issue at hand here is whether employers can simply terminate employees based on the fact that they had apologized for their oversights and ‘facts’. There must be many-a-time that employees – whatever their rank – have made statements – foolishly, naively, egoistically, arrogantly – that they had to withdraw through an apology. The questions here then are these:-what is the value of an apology or retraction to an employer; what is the worth of an apology if it was made to a lower-ranking staff; does TTSH as an employer have a zero-tolerance towards apologies? Whether Mr Ngerng has integrity and honesty will remain to be seen through the court case, a case that will be watched closely. In this case then, as an employer it is unfortunate that TTSH has based its decision on an apology as a reflection of Mr Ngerng’s lack of integrity. Yet an illustrative example, in our history, would be the response of the Singapore government when two of its ministers apologized to Mr Chiam See Tong for defamatory remarks in 1981. The balanced approach taken by the Singapore government to the defamatory remarks made by the senior officers who apologized, paid damages and remained in office, is in marked contrast to the actions of TTSH in this instance.
TTSH has a wonderful track record of investing in its staff and has a strong employee-centric mandate as outlined in the six staff values, which TTSH promises its employees. Some of these include dialogue and constructive critique between staff and management and respect for each other as professionals. MARUAH respects TTSH’s commitment to its staff; particularly in striving to create a work environment where staff feel respected and where they are treated with dignity and fairness. Yet it is troubling to us to see how these very values were applied to Mr Ngerng.
Lastly MARUAH is perplexed about the response of the MOH. Does the MOH’s role of regulating services and institutions, include the human resource policies and actions of restructured hospitals? Should not that be the decision of TTSH independent of any regulating government body especially when the suit brought against Mr Ngerng is a civil case with a letter of demand issued by the Prime Minister, in his personal capacity? A clarification of the MOH’s approach to this matter and to its own role in relation to healthcare employees and institutions will be very useful.
 Section 14 -Employment Act (Chapter 91)