Workshop gathers ideas on uplifting low-wage workers

It is 1st of 6 by alliance, which aims to help them upskill, improve work environments

The Social Collab co-founder Cheryl Chong and FastJobs general manager Lim Huishan at the first workshop of the Alliance for Action for Lower-Wage Workers yesterday. The group hopes Singaporeans can see the essential work many low-wage workers do. ST
The Social Collab co-founder Cheryl Chong and FastJobs general manager Lim Huishan at the first workshop of the Alliance for Action for Lower-Wage Workers yesterday. The group hopes Singaporeans can see the essential work many low-wage workers do. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

If all essential work such as cleaning and waste management were halted for a day, people would sit up and notice how critical these services are.

This is something a group of about 40 people - comprising unionists, corporates, representatives from community organisations and youth leaders - hope Singaporeans can see.

They form the Alliance for Action for Lower-Wage Workers, which aims to improve working environments for low-wage workers, encourage the public to show respect and appreciation for the essential work they do and help them upskill. The alliance is aiming to gather 10 more members.

Another area of focus is in garnering support for the Progressive Wage Model (PWM), for example through public campaigns to educate consumers of its benefits to lower-wage workers and how they can show support to employers who adopt it.

Under the Alliance for Action for Lower-Wage Workers, six workshops will be conducted over the next few months to start ground-up initiatives to uplift lower-wage workers in Singapore.

Members of the alliance will use these workshops to brainstorm ideas, design and work on prototypes and pitch them to scaling partners or organisations.

The first workshop was held yesterday at Temasek Shophouse in Dhoby Ghaut and among those who attended was Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad.

Ms Cheryl Chong, 34, co-founder of The Social Collab, a social enterprise that raises funds and awareness for lesser known causes in Singapore, said: "Even if the work (of low-wage workers) is not visible to us, it doesn't mean that they are not there. If there's a day without cleaners, we wouldn't have clean streets."

Added Ms Chong, who was one of the participants at the workshop: "It's very important to recognise that they are valuable, contributing members to the whole workings of our economy and society."

Mr Zaqy said that as the PWM is expanded to other sectors, it is important to mobilise the community to gain public support as well.

The PWM is currently mandatory in the outsourced sectors of cleaning, security and landscape maintenance.

It will be mandatory for the lift and escalator maintenance sector next year, and the Government is exploring expanding it to new sectors such as waste management, food and beverage as well as retail.

Said Mr Zaqy: "We want to garner ideas and see where we can deploy them, and involve the public more in terms of not just policymaking, but really garnering support from the community as we move (the PWM) into new areas."

Ms Lim Huishan, 34, general manager at human resources and tech firm FastJobs, and who is also a member of the alliance, said that besides looking at the wages of these workers, the "softer" areas need to be addressed as well.

"Simple things, like the graciousness of people towards lower-wage workers in the essential services space, that's something I think we noticed and identified as areas that we need to influence."

A starting step could be as easy as learning the name of the cleaning staff that one sees cleaning the estate or area every day, and greeting them, she added.

"That visibility and understanding needs to come on an individual basis, not necessarily on a policy basis."

One idea that came up, Ms Lim said, was an "Experience Day", where people can sign up to become a security guard, cleaner, or any other low-wage worker, for a day. "This can really foster the empathy and understanding for the challenges that they face."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 28, 2021, with the headline Workshop gathers ideas on uplifting low-wage workers. Subscribe