Higher cleaners' pay unlikely to spike fees

Housing Board residents need not worry that higher pay for cleaners alone will lead to higher service and conservancy (S&C) charges. -- ST FILE PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Housing Board residents need not worry that higher pay for cleaners alone will lead to higher service and conservancy (S&C) charges. -- ST FILE PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Town councils chief explains impact of new law, other factors on S&C fees

Housing Board residents need not worry that higher pay for cleaners alone will lead to higher service and conservancy (S&C) charges.

Town councils say that higher cleaning costs on their own will not lead to higher fees, as cleaning charges make up only a fraction of estate maintenance costs.

Rather, any fee hike would come because estate maintenance costs have risen and some town councils have not raised S&C fees in a decade.

Under a new law kicking in later this year, cleaning firms must pay cleaners minimum basic wages according to the jobs they do.

Coordinating chairman for all 15 People's Action Party (PAP) town councils, Dr Teo Ho Pin, said: "The increase of S&C rates depends on various factors, such as increases in maintenance costs, inflation and electricity costs.

"With prudent management and cost-saving measures, the town council would increase the rates only when it is absolutely necessary."

Cleaning costs, such as for sweeping and trash collection, have risen by about 20 per cent over the past few years due to higher manpower and material costs, he said.

Town councils' annual reports show that cleaning costs typically make up only 20 per cent of routine estate maintenance costs. Public utilities take up the largest chunk, about 35 per cent. The rest includes fees for lift maintenance and managing agents.

Town councils are required by law to keep 30 to 35 per cent of S&C fees collected as sinking funds for large-scale maintenance. Monthly fees range from below $20 for one-room flats to above $80 for executive flats.

Seven PAP town councils raised their charges in 2012 and two in 2010, including the former Aljunied town council now under the Workers' Party (WP).

Sources familiar with town council operations say those that have not raised fees since the last hike in 2004 face the greatest pressure to increase charges. "Maintenance costs go up as estates get older," said a council volunteer.

WP's Ms Sylvia Lim, chairman of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) said its cleaning costs have risen substantially in the last two years.

"Government grants to town councils have not increased for many years, and should be reviewed. While AHPETC would not want to increase S&C charges as a first resort, we may have to do so," she said.

The National Development Ministry said grants are based on the number and types of flats. It spends about $90 million a year on about 15 per cent of town councils' annual budgets.

While residents were worried about higher S&C fees, some back the move to raise cleaners' pay.

Said Jurong resident S.L. Chan: "As long as the Government bears the bulk of cost increases, I don't mind paying a few dollars more each month if it means the cleaners getting higher pay. I feel for these Singaporeans too."

tohyc@sph.com.sg

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