Progressive wage model for Singapore's waste sector

Panel to develop wage and training ladder to uplift up to 3,000 local workers

Workers at SembWaste sorting through waste materials for recycling at the facility in Tuas yesterday. The new Tripartite Cluster for Waste Management, comprising representatives from the labour movement, employers, industry associations, service buye
Workers at SembWaste sorting through waste materials for recycling at the facility in Tuas yesterday. The new Tripartite Cluster for Waste Management, comprising representatives from the labour movement, employers, industry associations, service buyers and government officials, will raise the wages and improve the well-being of the sector's low-wage workers through a progressive wage model.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

A new committee has been formed to develop and implement a wage and training ladder for the bulk of local workers in the waste management sector, including garbage collectors and sorters.

The new Tripartite Cluster for Waste Management will raise the wages and improve the well-being of the sector's low-wage workers through a progressive wage model (PWM), said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad yesterday after a visit to waste management company SembWaste.

He said the PWM for the waste management sector, first mooted by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) last year, will cover up to 3,000 local workers when it is implemented.

The new committee comprises representatives from the labour movement, employers, industry associations, service buyers and government officials.

It aims to issue its recommendations in the second half of this year, said Mr Zaqy. The committee will develop the job ladders, training requirements and wage benchmarks for the sector, he added.

NTUC director of operations and mobilisation Fahmi Aliman will chair the committee, together with Singapore National Employers Federation deputy honorary secretary Felix Loh. The PWM, first introduced in 2012, sets out minimum salaries for local workers in various roles along a career and skills progression framework.

As a wage ladder, the PWM provides a clear career progression pathway for workers in the sector.

To improve their wages, workers must undergo structured training to upgrade their skills. The PWM currently covers the security, cleaning and landscaping industries.

The Government accepted the recommendations by a similar committee for the lift and escalator industry in 2018, and its PWM will take effect from next year.

Mr Zaqy did not give an estimate for when the PWM will be implemented for the waste management sector, noting that it would depend on how quickly players in the sector can come to a consensus.

"The key thing is you want to increase the salaries, productivity and so on, but you also don't want to create an unemployment effect where you do it wrongly and create an unintended consequence. So there's a bit of balance (that is needed) to do this," he said.

NTUC deputy secretary-general Koh Poh Koon said there will be "practical things to work through", such as determining the skills required for each rung of the wage ladder and developing structured training courses.

Mr Zaqy noted that the PWM for the lift and escalator industry will be made mandatory only next year as companies needed time to adjust, with contracts between service providers and buyers typically lasting at least three years.

"If you do it immediately, mandatory, many of them will be affected because they have contracts and they cannot adjust salaries against contracts," he added.

Mr Fahmi said the new committee will take into account the lessons learnt from the three existing PWMs, as well as suggestions from industry players on how to best uplift the pay of low-wage waste management workers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2021, with the headline 'Progressive wage model for waste sector'. Subscribe