S'pore's cleaning industry lauds increase in wages as recognition of workers' efforts, risks

Ms Chia Mui Noi, 61, a general cleaner who joined LS 2 Services last year, leads the cleaning team at a junior college.
Ms Chia Mui Noi, 61, a general cleaner who joined LS 2 Services last year, leads the cleaning team at a junior college.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - The cleaning industry welcomed the updates to the sector's Progressive Wage Model (PWM) announced on Monday (June 7), saying the move to increase wages is also an affirmation of workers' efforts and the risks undertaken.

This is especially so in the light of increased cleaning demands due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The proposal for a six-year schedule for wage increases put forth by a tripartite committee on the cleaning wage ladder was accepted by the Government yesterday. It is meant to narrow the income disparity between cleaners and other workers.

This will allow about 40,000 cleaners across some 1,500 cleaning businesses in Singapore to see their wages go up each year over six years, from 2023.

Mr Tony Chooi, a member of the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners (TCC) and director of cleaning and environmental services provider BNL Services, said he is glad that recognition is being given to front-line workers such as cleaners.

"They have been taking more risks than many of us have, in cleaning up and ensuring that the environment is safe for everybody," he said at a press briefing yesterday.

Ms Tan Wei Ying, corporate service director at cleaning and conservancy company LS 2 Services, told The Straits Times her company is "aligned with the goal of providing more for our cleaners".

"They are valuable resources contributing to Singapore's clean and green city," she said.

She noted that the company's clients have thus far recognised the efforts and risks that cleaners have been taking amid the pandemic. Both parties will work together to discuss their budgets and figure out the best way to handle the increased costs from the wage increase, she added.

Mr Chooi also acknowledged the increased cost burden for 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," he said.

"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 president of the Environmental Management Association of Singapore.

Ms Chia Mui Noi, a general cleaner who joined LS 2 Services last year, leads the cleaning team at a junior college.

General cleaners are on the lowest rung of the wage ladder, although team leaders like Ms Chia at every wage level get an additional $100 a month.

Her main role is to supervise and inspect cleaning tasks such as classroom and canteen cleaning, and the sanitising of high-touch areas.

The 61-year-old said she was very happy to hear about the wage increments, especially since she had taken a pay cut when she joined the company. She was previously a healthcare cleaner - which is on a higher rung of the ladder - at a hospital for about 10 years before assuming her new role.

"It is lower pay but I wanted a change of industry and direction. There is more work-life balance (in her new job)," she said, noting that the health risk is higher in a hospital job, while working hours are also longer.

NTUC assistant director-general Zainal Sapari, who chairs the TCC, said the 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."