By: Leong Sze Hian

Giving cleaners a reason to celebrate – for 6 years

I refer to the article “Giving cleaners a reason to celebrate – for six years” (Straits Times, Dec 13), which stated that cleaners salaries have gone up in the past few years.

“The move yesterday to come up with a pay structure with steady increments for cleaners is not entirely new. Over the past few years, cleaners have seen their pay go up. As of June last year, they were earning a basic median salary of $1,100 a month, compared with about $800 just four years ago. This was the result of a recommendation by a national committee of unionists, employers and civil servants in 2012 to set a minimum salary for local cleaners: Those cleaning offices will get at least $1,000 a month in basic pay and those cleaning hawker centres will get $1,200 a month.”

MOM: Hawker centres’ cleaners’ basic median wage is $1,000?

However, according to the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) latest “Table: Occupational Wages 2015” released on 30 June 2016 – the basic and gross median wage of “Food and beverage establishment cleaner (eg restaurants, food courts, hawker centres)” is only $1,000 and $1,100, respectively.

$1,100 or $1,000?

So, is it $1,100 (as reported now) or $1,000 for the median basic wage of hawker centre cleaners?

$1,200 or $1,100?

Similarly, is it $1,200 (as reported now) or $1,100 for the median gross wage?

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Did not reach target after 3 years – short by $200? 

It would appear that the target set in 2012 – “those cleaning offices will get at least $1,000 a month in basic pay and those cleaning hawker centres will get $1,200 a month” – has not been reached after the three years from 2012 to 2015.

The $1,200 target for hawker centre cleaners is short by $200 ($1,200 – $1,000).

Alas, finally a new law?

“A new law that kicked in from September last year also made it compulsory for cleaning companies to implement the minimum wages.

What is novel this time?

What is novel this time is that the national committee, having set the minimum salaries, is pushing for pay hikes for cleaners over the next six years. According to the committee’s plan, a cleaner earning the floor of $1,000 a month will see his salary go up to $1,200 in 2019 and $1,312 in 2022.

Goes against longstanding principles of linking pay hikes to productivity?

In an unprecedented move, the Government has accepted the plan. This is despite the fact that it goes against longstanding principles of linking pay hikes to productivity, and keeping the labour market flexible by having market forces set salaries.

What is novel this time is that the national committee, having set the minimum salaries, is pushing for pay hikes for cleaners over the next six years.

The one plausible explanation: The move is necessary to prevent cleaners’ salaries from stagnating again.

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Influx of foreign workers doing low-wage jobs depressed wages?

For 10 long years, between 2001 and 2010, the wages of cleaners had been depressed. This was the decade which saw an influx of foreign workers doing low-wage jobs, which, in turn, depressed wages, and cleaners were particularly vulnerable as they were mostly older, less-educated workers who did not have many other job options.

While income figures for cleaners were not officially released, it is clear they earned well below the lowest quintile of workers.”

20% of workers – $3.60 pay increase per year for 10 years!

As to “During that period, the nominal monthly income of the lowest quintile rose from $1,200 to $1,400. This increase worked out to real growth of only 0.3 per cent, almost flat, after adjusting for inflation” – it works out to only an increase of about $3.60 per year ($1,200 x 0.3%) for the 10 years.

How do you feel – now that you know that the bottom 20 per cent of Singaporean workers had a miserable real increase in income of only $3.60 a year for 10 years?

“The wage-hike plan can prevent a repeat of this wage depression.”

Problem with the “median”?

The problem with the subject and all the previous schemes to help raise cleaners’ pay may be that the median is the half-way point of the population of cleaners.

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And it only refers to full-time employed cleaners.

What about part-time cleaners?

There are many part-time cleaners who earn as little as $250 a month, as highlighted by the part-time cleaner who had her holiday trip to Japan cancelled recently because of the closure of the travel agency – who only earned about $250 a month.

Simple solution – minimum hourly wage?

Perhaps a possible simple solution – is to have a minimum basic wage of say $7 an hour, and for future target wage increase to be based on the hourly wage too, instead of on the median basic and gross monthly wage of different types (hawker, office, etc) of cleaners.

A $7 hourly wage would raise their basic monthly wage immediately to at least $1,335 ($7 x 44 hours x 4 weeks & 2 days) a month.

Wait until 2022 to get $1,312?

In this regard – the above suggestion of $1,335 is even more than the “$1,200 in 2019 and $1,312 in 2022 … in the committee’s plan”.

2012 target: $1,200 by 2015, now same $1,200 target by 2019?

By the way – since the target in 2012 for hawker centre cleaners was to achieve $1,200 by 2015 – why are we still talking about a new target now to achieve the same $1,200 in 2019?

What has PISA got to do with cleaners’ pay?

Maybe our world top ranking in the PISA scores (particularly in Mathematics) may have something to do with it!