Rejection of pay hike request set off upskilling journey for S'pore cleaner turned operations manager

Mr Ramli Mohd Hussin took on a job as a general toilet cleaner in 1988, but took steps to improve his qualifications and is now a senior operations manager.
Mr Ramli Mohd Hussin took on a job as a general toilet cleaner in 1988, but took steps to improve his qualifications and is now a senior operations manager.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Mr Ramli Mohd Hussin was 16 years old when he got his first job as a general toilet cleaner in 1988. He earned $380 a month.

He had dropped out of his basic course at the Vocational and Industrial Training Board, the equivalent of today's Institute of Technical Education.

Over the years, he took various upskilling courses - some of his own accord and others under the Workforce Skills Qualifications system. Eventually, he took on roles as area supervisor and operations executive.

Today, he is a senior operations manager earning $3,500 a month - a feat he says would not have been possible without the implementation of the Progressive Wage Model (PWM), along with his desire for self-improvement.

The PWM, a ladder that sets out minimum pay and training requirements for workers at different skill level, was announced for the cleaning sector in 2012 and took effect in 2014.

Says Mr Ramli, 48, who is married with four children: "Now, cleaners can upskill and create good prospects for themselves."

The training requirements under the PWM have been a huge help, Mr Ramli says, especially for those new to the industry.

He explains: "Last time, when I mixed chemical cleaners, I thought that if I used a lot, the floor would be cleaner. Now, we have taken courses to learn the proper dilution ratio - pouring too much could damage the floor."

He says when he first started working, he used to mix such chemicals and wash toilet bowls and urinals without wearing gloves or any protective equipment.

"We didn't know, so we just 'whacked' (the task) with our bare hands. But subsequently, in classes, we realised it's not the right way because germs can get under your fingernails and the chemicals could also damage your hands."

Recalling his wage growth journey, Mr Ramli says he had thought his starting pay of $380 was a decent wage at the time as he did not have any family responsibilities.

"But as I grew older and the (cost) of living got higher, I started to feel (the pinch)," says Mr Ramli, who lived in a rental flat in Ang Mo Kio with his family for a time.

In 2004, he requested a pay increment that his boss rejected.

That marked a major turning point in his attitude. "I told myself, if I get better qualifications, people will pay me more and I can improve my life," he says.

He signed himself up for courses in leadership and people management, and safety coordination, and even attained a diploma in management at the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

These qualifications helped him get promotions and corresponding wage increases along with the base wages stipulated by the PWM. In 2017, he bought a four-room flat with a bank loan.

"My current salary is average - not very high, but not low either. I have been successful in giving my family a roof over their heads. But I believe I still have room to grow."