SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has launched a pilot programme to allow 15 cleaning companies in Singapore to recruit workers from four more countries to offer part-time cleaning services to households.
Currently, they can only recruit work permit holders from Malaysia, China and North Asian sources.
Now, the cleaning service providers are allowed to hire from India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand too.
The Household Services Scheme (HSS) is intended to help the industry meet increasing demand for part-time household services, MOM said.
Companies participating in the scheme, such as Home Cleanz and Amahs on Wheels, will provide workers for part-time household services such as cleaning, and they can be deployed to multiple households.
They will also live in company-provided accommodation, unlike live-in foreign domestic workers (FDWs).
Second Minister for Home Affairs and Manpower Josephine Teo said in an interview with Mediacorp journalists on Tuesday (Jan 30) that some families in Singapore hire foreign domestic workers (FDWs) specifically for household chores such as cleaning and tidying.
"If we can encourage families who only need cleaning services to go for part-time cleaning providers, we can perhaps ease off the demand of FDWs and allocate them to those who need FDWs as a caregiver," Mrs Teo said in Mandarin.
IT MAY NOT BE CHEAPER TO HIRE FOREIGN PART-TIME CLEANERS OVER LOCAL ONES
Agencies that Channel NewsAsia spoke with say that hiring foreign part-time cleaners will probably not translate to savings for clients who are choosing between local and foreign part-time cleaners.
Bryan Goh, director of A1 Services, said they have hired 13 such workers from Myanmar since September. The agency provided a six-month training course in Myanmar on basic housework such as toilet cleaning and also language lessons so that the workers have some understanding of English.
"We also pay for their transport fares and mobile data, and we teach them how to use maps on their phone so that they know how to move around," Mr Goh said.
Angie Goh, director for Amah On Wheels, said that the training time is also another reason why it costs the same to hire local and foreign part-time cleaners.
"It takes longer to train a foreigner. Depending on the person, it can take two to three months to train a foreign part-time cleaner compared to two weeks to a month for a local part-time cleaner. During the training period, we continue to pay their salary," Ms Goh said.
For participating in HSS, Amah On Wheels has increased its recruitment of foreign part-time cleaners from Malaysia. The scheme means they are able to hire more foreigners on top of their existing foreign worker quota.
"We also face the same (manpower crunch) problems. Our traditional source of cleaners, the locals, are disappearing so we have to be flexible to hire from foreign sources. So it may even be more costly to hire foreign part-time cleaners. The scope of work and expectations from clients are the same, as with local part-time cleaners," Ms Goh said.
"The upside is that the foreign part-time cleaners are younger. If they are trained properly, they can stay with you for a long time. They have more energy to work and are more willing to work," she added. This view was also echoed by other agencies.
In terms of the hourly rates for hiring cleaners, only one agency is pricing foreign part-time cleaners lower in comparison to local ones. Three other agencies CNA spoke to are pricing hourly charges of their local and foreign part-time cleaners at the same level.
Desmond Chin, executive chairman of Advancer Global, said that the demand for part-time cleaners will increase. Advancer Global is the parent company to two cleaning service providers Master Clean and World Clean under this scheme.
"Generally, the Singapore market requires infant caretakers and elderly caretakers. These two groups are handled by the FDWs, and we need another group of workers for household services," he added.
The pilot scheme started last September and is running for a year. At that point, MOM will then assess whether to extend the pilot or to make the scheme permanent.