SINGAPORE - By the end of the year, employers should have new guidelines on how they can provide proper rest areas for outsourced workers such as cleaners, security guards and landscape maintenance workers.
Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad on Tuesday (April 16) asked for the support of the unions and employers in coming up with these tripartite guidelines, which will be developed after ministry inspectors visit about 200 workplaces around Singapore to understand what the current practice is.
"Our lower-wage workers deserve to thrive by having decent work environments and being appreciated for the work they do on a daily basis," he said at the annual Ministry of Manpower (MOM) workplan seminar at Orchid Country Club.
This is part of the ministry's new Workcare initiative, he said.
Since April 1, the MOM's inspectors have spoken with cleaners and employers at 20 sites such as foodcourts, shopping malls and commercial buildings.
"We have seen cleaners resting in open areas within carparks far from the buildings, or in small, poorly ventilated and cluttered storage rooms at the basements of commercial buildings," Mr Zaqy told some 1,000 staff of the ministry and its statutory boards, as well as union leaders.
"For sites with no rest areas provided, cleaners sometimes take breaks at staircase landings and bin centres away from public view."
Cleaners said that aside from having a place to rest, they hope to have access to basic amenities such as lockers, fans and water dispensers for hot and cold water, he added.
Mr Zaqy said that the ministry will be working with government agencies to ensure they provide proper rest areas, and with town councils, which he said are committed to look at ways to provide these areas for cleaners and other outsourced workers in their estates.
During the parliamentary debate on the MOM budget in March, MPs Zainal Sapari and Intan Azura Mokhtar had called for proper rest areas to be provided for low-wage workers and outsourced workers.
Dr Intan, who attended the workplan seminar on Tuesday, told reporters that she is leading the efforts in Ang Mo Kio Town Council, and hopes to have proper rest areas for its cleaners by next year.
"A lot of workers are resting near rubbish bin centres, but if there's a way in which a proper rest area can be demarcated, can be carved out for them, where it's much cleaner, more hygienic, has proper ventilation and with basic amenities such as tables, chairs and water provided, we should strive to do that," she said.
She also said that while not all companies or building owners will be able to provide very good rest areas based on space or location constraints, they could collaborate and share a central area among a few companies or buildings.
Several building owners are leading the way, said Mr Zaqy in his speech, highlighting The Crystal Place rest area at Suntec City as a good example.
The rest area, which has 400 sq m of communal space and and 334 users in different shifts, is air-conditioned and open round-the-clock for workers to have their meals and relax. There are lockers, drink dispensers that sell hot and cold drinks at subsidised prices, a spacious meal area, and free Wi-Fi. It was opened last year.
Providing good rest areas helps both workers and employers, said Mr Zaqy.
Cleaning Express, one of the companies with workers deployed at Suntec, has seen a higher staff retention rate and lower absenteeism since the rest area was opened, he said.
At Monday's visit to The Crystal Place, which is about the size of four four-room Housing Board flats when office spaces for the companies are included, Mr Zaqy assured employers that the MOM is not legislating rest areas, but hopes that they will want to provide them because they see value in motivating workers.
Mr Anthony Yip, deputy chairman of APM Property Management which manages Suntec City, said that The Crystal Place was converted from an empty "back of house" space at the mall. "It's a space that is not so accessible to the public from a commercial perspective, but is very accessible to workers as a bus stop is just around the corner and the MRT station is nearby. So we decided to reconfigure it to make it usable," he said.
Gardener Tan Cheng Hong, 70, who goes to the space during his hour-long lunch break, said that before The Crystal Place opened, he and his colleagues had to bring their own fans, tables and chairs to use in their rest area."This place is comfortable and clean. We can relax and we'll feel better going back to work," he said.