Efforts to improve rest areas for outsourced workers

Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad (centre), Singapore National Employers Federation member Jeffrey Chua (second from left) and National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari (right) with cleaners (from left) Lew Ch
Minister of State Zaqy Mohamad (centre) interacting with the cleaners from ISS who work at Ikea Alexandra on Dec 9, 2019, as NTUC assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari (right), ISS assistant GM Simon David (standing) and Ikea HR manager Janet Lee (standing) look on. ST PHOTO: KELLY HUI

When officers from the Ministry of Manpower visited work sites to assess the working conditions of outsourced workers, one aspect jumped out.

Many companies were providing rest areas, but some were not conducive places where workers could take a break.

That is why Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad, who launched the tripartite advisory to provide rest areas for outsourced workers yesterday, said guidelines have to be set on what a proper rest area is.

Mr Zainal Sapari, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, said: "For instance, less than 15 per cent of security officers feel that they have proper rest areas. But if you ask the management of a building, they will say they provided the rest area."

He observed that building managements might have told security officers to rest at the guardhouse, but this is not ideal for them.

"There is no privacy and members of the public can think the officers are not doing their work."

For cleaners, this depends on where they are located.

Those working at newer commercial buildings have good rest areas, while cleaners at older areas might need more support from employers, said Mr Zainal.

He added: "Some conservancy cleaners have rest areas carved out at the bin centres and this is not ideal as well."

 
 
 
 

Facilities service provider ISS, which has about 1,700 clients, said it is working with companies to provide proper rest areas for its workers.

It has about 10,000 employees in Singapore, of whom around 8,000 are cleaning crew members.

ISS assistant general manager Simon David said: "In general, the feedback we have received from workers is there is room for improvement. Some rest areas can have better ventilation, furniture and proper lighting.

"We will be working with our service buyers to do this in full force next year."

He noted that many companies have acted to provide rest areas after Mr Zaqy's initial announcement in Parliament in March.

"Even those that do provide rest areas can improve. We will work with building owners on this."

ISS provides cleaners to Ikea Alexandra, which has included a rest area for outsourced workers at the carpark since the store was opened in 1995.

The rest area was further expanded in 2008 and now spans 35 sq m, with air-conditioning, lockers, fridges, a microwave oven and furniture such as a couch, a table and chairs.

The outsourced workers also have access to a co-worker pantry, with subsidised meals at $2 and free tea and coffee.

Ikea Alexandra human resources manager Janet Lee said: "We feel that they should have their own place where they are comfortable mingling with their own team.

"We did not really consider the costs of having such a space. It is just part of operational building costs that include air-conditioning and lighting. We did not carve out a specific budget for this rest area."

Around 40 of the 55 outsourced workers use the rest area regularly. They include cleaners, the trolley team, landscapers and the air-conditioning service team.

One of them is Mr Lim See Beng, 66, a cleaner who has worked there for two years.

He said: "This rest area is very good, with everything I need. I take my food there and I chat with my friends. It is important as a place for me to rest."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2019, with the headline 'Efforts to improve rest areas for outsourced workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe