Over 760 cleaning firms get licences ahead of new law

More than 760 firms have received licences from the National Environment Agency (NEA), a week before a law requiring cleaning firms to be licensed kicks in next Monday.

Another 140 or so firms have submitted applications and are expected to receive licences soon.

"So far, no cleaning business has had its application rejected," an NEA spokesman told The Straits Times, promising to speed up the remaining applications.

This means the number of cleaning companies here is likely to remain at about 900, with an anticipated shake-up not taking place. The authorities had previously expected company numbers to drop to "several hundred".

Before compulsory licensing, the sector was largely unregulated and industry players suppressed wages to win new business.

This prompted the Government to amend the law in February, which in effect set a compulsory wage ladder for different jobs in the sector. Licensed firms are bound by law to pay their cleaners a minimum monthly basic wage of $1,000. The salary increases to $1,600 for cleaning supervisors.

Without a licence, firms cannot offer their services. Penalties apply to those who flout the law.

Mr Milton Ng, president of the Environmental Management Association of Singapore, which represents cleaning firms here, said the sector has been preparing for the new law. "We know it is coming and the cleaning firms know the conditions that they have to meet," said Mr Ng.

He credited the NEA for going out of its way to help firms apply: "There was one case where its officers helped a Mandarin-speaking cleaning firm boss fill in the form, which was in English."

Mr Woon Chiap Chan, country managing director of ISS Facility Services, one of the largest cleaning companies here with about 4,500 staff, said his firm got the licence about two months ago. It has already started preparing for licence renewal in a year's time.

He said the toughest part of the criteria was training - firms are required to have at least half of their workforce complete training courses certified by the Workforce Development Agency.

The labour crunch makes it hard for firms to send their cleaners for training, he added.

Compulsory wage ladders will also be implemented in the security and landscaping sectors, although the dates have not been fixed.

Said MP and National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari: "The lessons learnt in the cleaning sector will affect how wage ladders are implemented in the security and landscaping sectors."

TOH YONG CHUAN