Cleaners to get an annual bonus of at least two weeks' pay from Jan 1, 2020 onwards

The bonus applies to Singaporean and permanent resident workers who have worked at least a year in the same company, said the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners. ST PHOTO: JASMINE CHOONG

SINGAPORE - Details of a compulsory bonus to be paid to all resident cleaners here from 2020 were released on Thursday (Nov 15), setting out the exact quantum, timeline and scenarios that cleaners must be paid the bonuses.

The update to the requirements for the progressive wage model (PWM) for cleaners states that cleaning firms must pay resident cleaners an annual bonus of at least two weeks' pay from Jan 1, 2020 onwards.

This applies to Singaporean and permanent resident workers who have worked at least a year in the same company, said the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners (TCC) in an addendum to its PWM report.

The bonus was first mooted in December 2016 by the TCC, and was passed in Parliament last month as part of an amendment to the Environmental Public Health Act.

It is expected to benefit more than 40,000 cleaners employed by more than 1,300 cleaning firms here.

The PWM bonus, besides uplifting the cleaners' wages, will serve as "a retention tool to motivate cleaners to stay with the same employer longer for better career progression", said the TCC in a press statement.

The bonus will also encourage businesses to raise productivity in their workers by investing in their training, it added.

Part-time and relief cleaning workers, who are employed on an ad hoc basis, must also be paid a bonus that is pro-rated to the contractual hours they worked that year, as long as they meet the 12-month service length in that same firm.

But as some clients can change their cleaning service providers frequently, there was concern that some cleaners may not be able to reach the required term of service to qualify for the bonus, and this is through no fault of their own.

To address this, the TCC said employers must still pay the bonuses to workers who do not meet the service length criteria in such cases.

The addendum report also sets out that cleaning workers must be paid in cases of retirement or medical issues. If workers resign on their own, or are terminated due to misconduct, then no PWM bonus is necessary.

The bonus is not a performance bonus, and is therefore not tied to the performance of the worker, but TCC noted that some cleaning firms already provide some form of variable bonuses to their workers. These include the firm's own performance bonuses or 13-month bonuses, but exclude overtime pay and reimbursements.

These firms that already pay out bonuses to their cleaning staff would be deemed as having complied with the PWM bonus requirements if they are already giving out more than the minimum two weeks of the worker's basic wage.

Besides the bonus, the report also recommended scheduled wage increases of 3 per cent annually to the PWM wage levels from 2020 to 2022. For instance, general cleaners working in offices and food and beverage establishments, who are receiving a minimum wage of $1,200 in 2019, will see their pay rise by $36 in 2020.

Employers must comply with these requirements to attain the cleaning business licence needed to operate in the cleaning industry.

The Government has accepted TCC's recommendations, said the Manpower Ministry and the National Environment Agency in a joint statement.

National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari said in a Facebook post that the PWM, introduced in 2012, was to grow wages in a sustainable way and address cheap sourcing, which he called a form of market failure.

"The PWM recognises that there is no shortcut to helping low-wage workers move up. To progress, they must have opportunities to acquire skills, be assigned work that makes use of those skills, and be paid accordingly for the improved productivity," said Mr Zainal, who is also a member of the TCC.

"It is different from minimum wage on a number of fronts - it is a ladder and not a floor, so every worker has a chance to progress."

For some companies, the financial challenges posed by the rule changes are offset by other government grants aimed at boosting productivity.

Executive director of local cleaning firm Sun City Maintenance Felix Swee, whose firm hires around 600 cleaners, said previous adjustments to the PWM wage ladder came after contracts with clients had been inked.

"As this additional costing was not initially factored into contracts awarded before the announcement, it does weigh financially on our company," said Mr Swee.

Fortunately for his firm, other grants that support older workers, such as the Government's special employment credit initiative and the job redesign grant, or WorkPro, helped close the gap created by the rule changes, he said.

A combination of the PWM wage ladder and Sun City's own human resource policies saw cleaner Ang See Gee's monthly wages climb from $900 in 2007 to $1,400 in 2013. The 57-year-old is now paid around $1,700 a month, after going through skills training that helped her to become a supervisor in the firm last year, managing 30 cleaners.

A PWM bonus would mean around $850 of additional spending money each year.

Said Madam Ang in Mandarin: "The pay was worse in the past, and right now, it is quite manageable for my needs. If I need extra, I can always work overtime."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.