CLIMBING THE WAGE LADDER

The gardener: Rosier outlook, thanks to training

Mr Yasin attended courses conducted on Prince's premises and at the Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology, where he learnt to operate machinery such as hedge trimmers.
Mr Yasin attended courses conducted on Prince's premises and at the Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology, where he learnt to operate machinery such as hedge trimmers. PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Gardener's $1,300 salary barely enough to support family of six, but he stands to earn more with new wage model

What with household expenses and medical bills for his disabled stepson, gardener Md Yasin Ithnin is living hand to mouth on a basic salary of $1,300 a month.

This is less than one-sixth of the median household income from work, which rose to $8,666 last year.

Yet, the 57-year-old considers this to be a good wage, compared with what he used to get.

He could earn more as a new wage ladder for the landscaping industry comes into force this month.

When Mr Yasin started in the industry nine years ago, he earned $900 a month caring for the gardens at a foreign embassy.

LEARNING AND IMPROVING

Last time, I just watered the plants and made sure they didn't die. Now, the courses show me how I can really take care of the plants and make them look good.

MR MD YASIN ITHNIN, a gardener.

He never got beyond a $100 increase in all the seven years he had worked for the same company. Hoping for better prospects, he joined Prince's Landscape and Construction in 2014, a year before the firm began preparations to be part of the Progressive Wage Model (PWM).

In April this year, he was among the landscape workers Prince sent for training to meet the June 30 deadline for the landscaping industry to adopt the model.

His $1,300 salary is the lowest rung of the PWM for the industry.

For Mr Yasin, it was the first time he had gone for any sort of landscaping training.

"I was very scared," admits Mr Yasin, who went for courses conducted on Prince's premises and at the Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology, where he learnt to operate machinery such as hedge trimmers.

He explains: "My English is no good because I was too poor to go to school. I was scared I couldn't understand. But I learnt a lot. Now I understand more about the plants."

Prince has 62 local landscape workers, more than 60 per cent of whom have completed the first phase of training.

Mr Yasin, a former cleaner who decided he preferred working outdoors, works nine hours a day, from 8am to 5pm, maintaining greenery at a hotel. He pots yellow palms and arranges flower beds, trims money plants and checks leaves for fungal growth.

"Last time, I just watered the plants and made sure they didn't die," he says.

"Now, the courses show me how I can really take care of the plants and make them look good."

The long hours in the sun have left him with a perennial backache. "But I cannot relax," says the sole breadwinner of his family of six.

His wife Nor Hayati, 49, has three children from a previous marriage and a sickly mother in her 80s. The older children, who are 21-year-old twins, study at the Institute of Technical Education.

The youngest son, Muhammad Nur Ashakir Zulazmi, 19, has neuromuscular scoliosis - a curved spine that leaves him unable to walk - and recently became blind from cataracts. His mother stays at home to care for him.

Mr Yasin lists just a few of the family's monthly bills: $138 for their rental flat in Teck Whye, $120 for electricity bills, $150 for his stepson's medicine and $100 for his mother-in-law's medicine.

There are also daily necessities such as adult diapers and milk powder for his stepson, who cannot eat solids. Last year, they spent $9,000 from an insurance policy so that Mr Nur Ashakir could undergo a spinal operation.

Mr Yasin also seeks out part-time work on weekends, such as grasscutting or cleaning. "I can earn $20 and use it for bus fare or to buy my son diapers," he says.

"It's not easy, but at least with this job, I make enough.

"Plus the company lets me take time off to take my son to hospital."

Under the PWM, if Mr Yasin undergoes sufficient training to qualify as a landscape technician, he will earn at least $1,500 a month.

If he rises to the level of landscape supervisor, he would get at least $2,100.

He estimates it would cost $4,000 a month to get daycare for Mr Nur Ashakir so that Madam Hayati, a former security guard, could return to work. But she still hopes to buy their own flat one day.

Says Mr Yasin: "Money is not important to me. Everything I earn goes to the children. If I can spend time with them, it's good enough."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 19, 2016, with the headline 'The gardener: Rosier outlook, thanks to training'. Print Edition | Subscribe