Cleaners in S'pore to see wages increase over 6 years from 2023 under progressive wage model

From 2023 to 2028, the base wages of Singaporean and permanent resident cleaners across all job levels will see a year-on-year increase. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - Cleaners will see their wages go up each year over six years, after proposals put forth by a tripartite committee on the cleaning wage ladder were accepted by the Government on Monday (June 7).

From 2023 to 2028, the base wages of Singaporean and permanent resident cleaners across all job levels will see a year-on-year increase. This will benefit about 40,000 cleaners across some 1,500 cleaning businesses in Singapore.

For example, the first adjustment in 2023 will see base wages of general and indoor cleaners increase by almost 20 per cent from $1,312 in 2022 to $1,570.

The move is meant to narrow the income disparity of cleaners with other workers. Under previous updates to the progressive wage model (PWM) in 2016 and 2018, cleaners were slated to get 3 per cent annual wage increases from 2020 to 2022.

The wage increases were among new recommendations made by the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners (TCC), after it conducted another round of reviews of the model.

NTUC assistant director-general Zainal Sapari, who chairs the TCC, said the latest six-year schedule for wage increases aims to provide transparency for cleaning companies and service buyers to apprise tender contracts objectively.

The schedule "provides greater certainty to service providers and service buyers to price and award the cleaning contracts that would be fair to all stakeholders, including our cleaners", he noted.

Mr Zainal added that there was "no particular formula" as to how the wage increases were derived. "It's really based on a wage negotiation where we also made a relative comparison to what the workers could get in competing industries."

The TCC also recommended having cleaners be trained in workplace safety and health protocols by the end of 2022, to ensure their personal safety when carrying out cleaning tasks, especially in the light of increased cleaning demands due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Their employers should also send them for one of the core Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) modules identified by the TCC - which comprises representatives from the labour movement, industry, service buyers and the Government - for their relevant job level.

The PWM training guidelines had earlier required that all resident cleaners attain the minimum two WSQ certificates in 2022, with no specific month stated.

With the latest recommendations, cleaners will have until December 2022 to complete the two modules.

The progressive wage model, which is a ladder that sets out minimum pay and training requirements for workers at different skill levels, has been a compulsory condition for cleaning companies to be licensed since 2014.

Ms Phyllis Lim, deputy director of NTUC's U Care Centre which supports low-wage workers, said in a media briefing on Monday that due to the pandemic, training class sizes have been reduced to adhere to safe management measures.

"The new timeline is to allow sufficient time for cleaning businesses to comply with the training requirements... by the end of 2022, they should be able to send their cleaners (for the modules)."

The TCC also recommended that beyond 2025, cleaners in lower job rungs must complete one additional module, while those in higher job rungs must complete two extra modules.

The list of WSQ training modules has been updated, and will periodically be updated to ensure its relevance, it added.

Mr Tony Chooi, a member of the TCC and president of the Environmental Management Association of Singapore, acknowledged that the salary increases would increase the cost burden of cleaning companies.

"That is why we are asking for a two-year runway to 2023, before these salaries kick in, so we have time to price our future tenders correctly.

"If the contracts are long term, stretching beyond 2023, we will have time to negotiate with our service buyers to see how we can reach a mutually agreeable solution to fund the increase in salaries," said Mr Chooi, who is also the director of BNL Services, a cleaning and environmental services provider.

Mr Zainal also responded to a question on whether the updated PWM will lead to more cleaning jobs being outsourced to foreign workers who are not covered under the model.

He said: "The PWM recommendations are targeted at the resident workforce. However, when it comes to foreign workers, we suggested that the principles of the PWM should apply where you compensate them fairly.

"We do not think that will lead to a situation where there will be greater reliance on foreign workers, because this industry is managed by a quota system and dependency ratio."

A dependency ratio ceiling, or quota, is the maximum ratio of foreign workers to the total workforce that a company in a given sector can employ.

Labour MP Mohd Fahmi Aliman, who is also a member of the Tripartite Workgroup on Lower-Wage Workers and co-chairman of the sub-committee looking at wages, said: "What (the recommendations) mean for our cleaners is that they can continue to look forward to higher starting pay and base wage increase every year.

"Our cleaners have been doing an important job and we want to appreciate their contributions to society in keeping Singapore clean and safe."

The Ministry of Manpower, National Environment Agency, SkillsFuture Singapore and Workforce Singapore said in a joint release issued on Monday that the Government has accepted the TCC's recommendations for wage increases and enhanced training.

These will "ensure significant wage growth and skills upgrading for cleaners, and develop a more competent and productive cleaning workforce".

However, the Government will further review the training requirements beyond 2025 as "sufficient lead time will be provided for the industry to adapt to any enhancements to the training requirements", they added.

The four agencies reiterated a call for service providers to "accelerate transformation efforts like job redesign".

It also urged service buyers to adopt progressive contracting practices, and workers to embrace upskilling. "Together, our collective whole-of-society efforts will uplift our lower-wage workers."

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