Ms Junie Foo
Chairperson, Singapore Kindness Movement
Dr William Wan
General Secretary, Singapore Kindness Movement
Dr Gerard Ee
Chairman, Agency for Integrated Care
Friends, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen
1. Thank you for inviting me at the closing of today’s National Kindness Conference 2023. I have attended events organised by the Kindness Movement a few times before and it has always been cheerful, uplifting and meaningful. I really appreciate all that you have done.
2. I want to especially thank our relatively new chairman, Junie, for coming onboard and leading this important Movement. Behind the scenes, there is a very hardworking General Secretary, who has been the brain, heart, soul, hands and legs of this movement, Dr William Wan. Thank you very much.
3. Kindness is a topic I feel strongly about. Since we were young, we have learned about all that Singapore has accomplished, with an outstanding maritime port, the number one airport in the world, one of the most competitive economies in the world, the best labour force in the world etc. All these economic, tangible, physical and material achievements were not easy to accomplish. Did we achieve them by just being competitive for competitiveness’ sake or did we achieve it through a certain positive energy which involved kindness at the workplace, having common goals and supporting one another? I hope that we did achieve it through a fair amount of positive energy and it is important for us to keep that going.
4. I experienced such positive energy first-hand during the COVID-19 crisis. We were under so much pressure, but throughout the entire healthcare system, there was a lot of positive energy. Notwithstanding that urgent sense of crisis, everyone had everyone’s back. And because of that, we were able to get out of the crisis as a country with the cooperation of everyone.
5. As William mentioned, kindness must start with everyone. It starts with you thinking about what you can do for others. For the Government, we can have policies that bring out kindness in people. In the past, it had mostly been about proscribing what you could not do, for example, do not spit, do not litter, or you will be fined. However, we should focus on policies encouraging kind acts.
6. One recent example is the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) tray-return policy. Diners have to return their trays and clear their table litter after they finish their meals at hawker centres, coffeeshops and food courts. When the policy first started in June 2021, not everyone was supportive. It was common to hear some people expressing concern that cleaner aunties and uncles may lose their jobs.
7. However, one may not realise that returning our trays and clearing the table of litter is also a form of kindness to the cleaners, many of whom are elderly, as it makes their jobs easier and frees up their time to focus on cleaning the tables. Returning trays also helps to turn over tables more quickly for other diners. If such kind actions can help elderly cleaners to keep our dining environment clean, we should implement a tray-return policy.
8. Second is Singapore’s approach to digital payment. Minister for Communications and Information, Mrs Josephine Teo, recently said that Singapore should aim to be “digital-first” instead of “digital-only”. It has also been the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s approach in promoting digital payment. This means that Singapore is not out to totally phase out cash and cheques as payment modes.
9. It is a kind policy, because it takes into account that there are Singaporeans who may not be digitally literate or proficient to embrace cashless payment totally. Providing a non-digital avenue for these Singaporeans will not impose a major cost or efficiency burden on our system.
10. Further, by taking a more inclusive and understanding approach, we are more likely to bring about a greater acceptance of cashless payment. It may be counter-intuitive but it is a kind approach.
11. A third kind policy is MOH’s recently announced zero-tolerance policy against abuse and harassment of healthcare workers.
12. We have been observing rising incidence of abuse and harassment of healthcare workers by a small minority. The majority of our healthcare workers have experienced or witnessed such unkind acts. Hence, MOH convened a Tripartite Workgroup to look into the issue.
13. Last month, the Workgroup issued its recommendations – that we should adopt of a standardised zero-tolerance policy against the abuse and harassment of healthcare workers in any form, across healthcare institutions. We are now translating the policy into detailed implementation plans, to be effected in the second half of this year.
14. Since the new policy was announced last month, we have received mostly supportive feedback. It confirms our belief that the vast majority of the people we serve are appreciative of and respectful to healthcare workers. But there are exceptions.
15. For example, I received feedback from a member of the public who described the zero-tolerance policy in derogatory language. I responded to say surely, he cannot condone abusive acts to healthcare workers, including physical assault, verbal threats and racist remarks? He said surely not! But then continued to hurl derogatory language at me. I simply cannot figure out such behaviour. Someone who appears to me clearly abusive, yet thinks he is right. I decided to disengage.
16. More common is feedback from members of the public who got into an altercation with healthcare workers, and felt that the new policy should not be targeting them. I expressed understanding and assured them that in a hospital environment, anxiety level could be high, people could lose their cool and altercations could happen.
17. If a healthcare worker has somehow not acted professionally, there are proper channels to report such behaviour and the feedback will be looked into seriously. But at no time should healthcare workers be subject to abuse and harassment.
18. We need to address the issue of abuse and harassment towards healthcare workers, because while this comes from a small minority of the public, it adds significant stress and emotional burden to healthcare workers. It also affects their ability to carry out their duties effectively and is unfair to the great majority who are appreciative and respectful to healthcare workers.
19. I cite these three examples because I do believe that the government has been implementing policies that are sometimes not easy to swallow, but we can always implement them with kindness in mind. This is something we should always think about.
20. All of us, in one way or another, are doing a service job. Whether you are a consultant, a banker, a healthcare worker, security guard, waiter, chef, salesperson, public service officer or Member of Parliament or Minister. We are all in the same boat and have experienced abuse at some point of time. All the more we can empathise with each other, and collectively stand up against the minority who may be abusive.
21. Together we can do much better and make Singapore a much kinder and more pleasant place to live in. With that positive energy, we can achieve so much more. Thank you.