A pioneer batch of 18 cleaning companies received their licences to operate yesterday under a move to improve the wages of cleaners.
The firms range from cleaning giant Veolia ES Singapore Industrial, which has over 1,000 staff, to Leng Yan General Services and Supplier, which has 60 cleaners.
These firms are now bound by law to pay their workers a minimum monthly basic wage of $1,000. The salary increases to $1,600 for cleaning supervisors.
Another 110 or so firms have submitted licence applications to the National Environment Agency (NEA), but about 85 per cent of the estimated 900 cleaning firms here have yet to do so.
"Cleaning firms have another four months to meet licensing requirements," said the NEA yesterday.
Without a licence, firms will not be able to offer their services from September.
Employers caught doing so unlicensed may get a fine of up to $10,000 or a jail term of up to 12 months. Those engaging unlicensed cleaning firms may also be fined up to $10,000.
Before the licensing rule took effect from last month, the cleaning sector was largely unregulated and industry players suppressed wages to win new business. The Government amended the law in February, which in effect set a compulsory tiered wage system for different jobs in the sector.
The NEA yesterday responded to worries that the lack of training places held employers back from sending workers for training.
"There is ample training capacity," it said, pointing to the increase in monthly training places from about 900 before March to 4,500 from April.
To get a licence, at least half of a firm's cleaners must have completed a Singapore Workforce Development Agency certified training course.
"No company that wants to get its workers trained will have a barrier... We will overcome the hurdles," said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan after visiting a cleaners' training class yesterday.
But he expects the number of cleaning firms to go from about 900 now to "several hundred".
"I hope that these licensed companies will be strong, viable companies that pay particular attention to the welfare of the workers."
Industry players say the manpower crunch is a bigger problem.
"Firms need their workers to do cleaning jobs given the labour shortage," said Mr Eric Emmanuel Tan, head of Training Masters, which runs cleaning courses.
To meet the training requirement, Mr Chu Soon Chye, managing director of Leng Yan General Services and Supplier, arranged for cleaners to do their jobs in the morning to make time for training in the afternoon.
"We have to change and adapt if we want the cleaners to upgrade skills and earn higher pay," he said.