Waste and recycling sector needs help to ease labour woes

The Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore (WMRAS) is heartened to learn that nine out of 10 people here are concerned about Singapore's food waste ("Most people here concerned about food waste: Poll"; Aug 11).

At the same time, we are concerned that only 13 per cent of the 788,600 tonnes of food discarded last year was recycled.

We wish our member-companies involved in waste management and recycling could do more, but it is a labour-intensive sector and Singaporeans tend to shun work in it.

As there is also a limit to what technology can do, and it takes time to automate work processes, WMRAS hopes the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) can reconsider the limits it has placed on the hiring of foreign manpower by waste management and recycling firms.

As economist Kit Wei Zheng said, there may be scope for a reallocation of foreign workers to sectors that have a greater need for them and for the overall pace of foreign labour tightening to slow ("Expert: Adjust foreign labour quotas for some sectors"; June 10).

WMRAS agrees because we have seen how the tight labour market has led to a higher turnover; with drivers, collectors and sorters quitting for a small pay rise after only working for a short while in a company. Productivity is affected, costs go up and companies hesitate to send workers for training, for fear they will jump ship thereafter.

With hiring constrained by foreign labour quotas, otherwise viable waste management and recycling small and medium-sized enterprises are not just finding it hard to grow their business, but some are also finding their survival threatened.

Beyond economic concerns, the smooth functioning of this sector is vital to Singapore's well-being.

Waste management and recycling are essential services on a tiny but crowded island which has no space for a landfill on its mainland and, yet, produces 20,500 tonnes of waste daily and has seen a drop in the amount it recycles over the past year.

We hope MOM will reconsider the limits it has placed on the waste management and recycling sector to hire foreign transient workers. Ultimately, it is Singaporeans who will benefit from the move.

Melissa Tan (Ms)
Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2015, with the headline 'Waste and recycling sector needs help to ease labour woes'. Print Edition | Subscribe