SINGAPORE - For the past 16 years, 80-year-old Low Kum Chuen has been working to keep Ang Mo Kio Garden West clean but on Saturday (Dec 7), he had an appointment to keep at the Istana.
He was among nearly 300 environmental service workers who were recognised with the inaugural Environmental Services Star Awards, which was launched as part of the annual Environmental Services Workforce Day which recognises and celebrates environmental service companies and employees.
The new award recognises the top employees in the industry across the three sectors: cleaning services, waste management and pest management.
President Halimah Yacob, who presented the awards, praised the workers as unsung heroes who toil quietly behind the scenes to contribute to Singapore's growth and cleanliness.
Thanking environmental service workers, President Halimah said: "You work quietly behind the scenes, but the impact you make on our environment, society and our lives is substantial."
Madam Halimah on Saturday also launched the #ServingSG initiative, which comprises events to recognise the contributions of workers, such as cleaners, who provide public services to Singapore.
"It is easy to take the contributions of such workers for granted. We are so used to it, and come to even expect it, that we tend to under-appreciate their efforts," said Madam Halimah.
She added that Saturday's event will be the first under the #ServingSG initiative.
"Even a small gesture, such as taking the time to smile or say thank you, can make a difference," she told the audience, which was made up of environmental service staff and company representatives from the cleaning, waste management and pest management sectors.
The Environmental Services Star Awards celebrates front-line, supervisory, and backend staff.
In addition to the 27 individuals who received the Environmental Services Star Award, another 268 individuals from 45 companies also received congratulatory certificates.
Mr Low, who is with Veolia ES Singapore Industrial, received an Environmental Services Star Award, which recognises the top employees in environmental services.
Other winners of the award include Ms Regina Cheah, who is a senior executive at Sembwaste and Mr Raship Othman, a technical director from Vcare Pest Management.
Mr Low said he has no plans to retire anytime soon, adding that he continues to take skills upgrading courses. For example, he took a public hygiene maintenance course in August this year.
The former construction worker, who is single and lives near Ang Mo Kio Garden West, said: "I enjoy my job. I enjoy talking to the park regulars and my colleagues. They keep me company."
Speaking at the event, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said workers will need to upgrade their skills as demand for services in the industry grow.
The industry now includes the pest management sector, following its inclusion in the Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map in April this year.
As a result, the Skills Framework for Environmental Services was refreshed earlier this month to include the sector.
The framework helps workers identify the relevant skills needed for the future by highlighting career pathways and training programmes.
Dr Khor said demand for environmental services will continue to increase.
"So we need to get the industry to improve productivity, promote growth, as well as become more sustainable in adopting technology, automation and digitalisation," she added.