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Cleaners: Majority are locals with low wages




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Will the progressive wage model (PWM) and mandatory licensing of cleaning firms make any difference remains to be seen

IT’S often said that Singapore needs foreign workers to build and clean its streets as not many locals are willing to take up these jobs. While it may be true for the construction sector, the cleaning industry paints a very different picture.
51,000 locals
The industry hires almost 70,000 workers across more than 900 companies, of which two-thirds – or 51,000 are locals. These form the bottom-most part of Singaporean society with the median monthly wage being S$815. As cleaning services are mostly outsourced, with emphasises on low-price contracts, the cleaners bear the brunt with lowest-possible wages.
Taking note of this, and other challenges faced by the cleaning industry such as cheap-sourcing, manpower shortage, low-wages, unattractive working conditions, and poor perception, the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) initiated a Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners (TCC) last year and made recommendations for a PWM for the cleaners in Singapore.
“The PWM would guide how cleaners can earn better wages progressively, based on productivity, work nature of various cleaning jobs, and competency level,” NTUC had said then.
the 3rd world pix
Praise-worthily, the TCC recommended “S$1,000 as the entry-level basic wage for cleaning jobs in offices and commercial buildings, as well as the F&B establishment sector; and S$1,200 in the conservancy sector. In addition to the entry-level wage point, each ladder comprises additional wage points to provide a pathway for cleaners to progress to higher wages as they become better skilled, more productive or take on higher responsibilities”.
“The BFM is targeting to help an initial 10,000 cleaners from three sub-sectors achieve progressive wages through various strategies and programmes.”
This signified a substantial wage jump for cleaners because as per the “Labour Movement’s Building and Facility Management Services (BFM) cluster records of unionised companies’ gross salaries, the median wage of cleaners for these positions are between S$675 and S$950,” informed NTUC in a release.
But the results have not been very encouraging so far, as noted by this newspaper in our story on wages under the section The Fourth Estate. While acknowledging that his ministry doesn’t have an exact breakdown of occupation of workers who had received the recommended pay rise [so no data pertaining to the cleaning industry], acting minister for manpower Tan Chuan-Jin informed the Parliament in July this year that only “three in 10 private employers gave at least S$50 built-in wage increases to workers earning a monthly basic salary of $1,000 and below, last year”.
Since TCC recommended wages and the present wages of the cleaners clearly have a difference of more than S$50, how many of the targeted 10,000 local cleaners have benefited from the PWM wage hike is not clear.
Tie-up licensing with PWM
That’s why, the government has decided to introduce mandatory licensing of cleaning companies from 2014 and tie it up with PWM. Grace Fu, the second minister for environment and water resources in her speech at the committee of supply debate, 2013, said,” My ministry will table a bill later this year to introduce the mandatory licensing of all cleaning companies in 2014. This will set the standards that all cleaning companies must meet before they can operate. The key licensing requirements include mandatory training courses and progressive wage model for the cleaners.”
This will, in a way, make implementation of TCC wage recommendations or PWM mandatory for all cleaning companies in Singapore, auguring well for the 50,000 or so local cleaners here.

cleanerDepartment of Public Cleanliness (DPC)
The DPC was formed on April 1, 2012, to integrate and subsume under it, the cleaning of all public areas previously under various government agencies by 2016. However, town councils will continue to maintain the cleanliness of public housing estates and issues requiring enforcement actions such as littering/high-rise littering, bin centre cleanliness and dog excrement will continue to be handled by the National Environment Agency.
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