Government, trade organisations call on firms to pay cleaners fairly amid COVID-19 outbreak

Government, trade organisations call on firms to pay cleaners fairly amid COVID-19 outbreak

Changi Airport 42
In wake of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, Changi Airport has seen much lesser human traffic. A cleaner sanitising the self service kiosks at Terminal 1's almost deserted departure lounge on Monday (March 30) (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: Companies should pay cleaning service providers fairly during the COVID-19 outbreak, said the Government as well as trade bodies on Friday (Apr 17), in an advisory to maintain the sector's viability. 

In the advisory, the Ministry of Manpower, National Environment Agency, National Trades Union Congress, Singapore National Employers Federation, Environmental Management Association of Singapore and Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners acknowledged that the pandemic had caused significant disruption to the demand and supply of cleaning services, as well as the livelihood of cleaners. 

“Service buyers play a critical role in ensuring the sustainability of service providers and the cleaning sector,” said the group. 

By helping cleaning companies retain their workers during this "circuit breaker" period, essential cleaning services can be maintained and can resume when businesses reopen and the economy starts to recover, it added. 

Businesses requiring the same level of cleaning services as before the outbreak should not reduce contract fees just because cleaning providers are receiving wage subsidies through the Jobs Support Scheme, according to the advisory. 

READ: Solidarity Budget - Jobs support raised to 75% for April, payout brought forward

The scheme “is intended to help enterprises retain their local employees during this period of economic uncertainty", it said.  

Even if the need for cleaning services has significantly declined, “it is recommended that some baseline level of cleaning is maintained for health and sanitation reasons".

"Such premises will (then) be able to resume operations without health or environmental hazards," the advisory added, recommending that both parties negotiate a revised fee.

If a company needs more frequent cleaning services, perhaps a deep cleaning of premises due to confirmed or potential COVID-19 cases, the cleaning provider should be paid more. 

For places that need increased cleaning intensity but are paying the same fees, companies should exercise flexibility and review cleaning needs with the workers. For example, workers can clean locations with higher footfall more often, while reducing the time spent on areas with less traffic. 

“This redistribution can help to manage service providers’ and cleaners’ workloads and maintain it at levels consistent with their normal scope of duties,” the advisory stated.

Firms should not impose liquidated damages penalising cleaning providers “for breaches in contract clauses that are beyond (their) control", the advisory added. 

RECOGNISE CLEANERS’ EFFORTS

The advisory also recommended that cleaning providers increase workers' salaries if they are taking on a bigger workload. This recognises that cleaners are exposed to potentially contaminated premises while on the job, it said. 

Workers who have much less to do should still be paid, said the advisory, given that companies are receiving wage subsidies and can adopt flexible work schedule arrangements. 

Earlier this year, the National Wage Council suggested that companies reduce working hours without cutting pay by creating a "time bank" of unused working hours that can be used to offset the increase in working hours in subsequent periods. 

READ: COVID-19: National Wages Council suggests management lead by example when cutting pay

They should also allow their staff members to take on a second job if the schedule permits, the council had said. 

Cleaning companies can take this lull period to send their workers for training as well, the advisory noted.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a difficult period for both service buyers and providers, as well as cleaners. Cleaners should be appropriately recognised and remunerated for any increased workload and risks they shoulder.

“This will ensure the sustainability of cleaning business operations and the cleanliness of our premises during this COVID-19 pandemic," it said. 

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Source: CNA/rp(hs)

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