SINGAPORE: Guidelines for companies to provide proper rest areas for outsourced workers were released on Monday (Dec 9).
The Tripartite Advisory on Provision of Rest Areas for Outsourced Workers was developed by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF).
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More than 600 stakeholders, including property owners and low-wage workers, were consulted.
Since April, manpower ministry inspectors visited more than 200 premises including food courts and shopping malls. They found that while most companies provided these workers with access to rest areas, some were unhygienic and had poor ventilation.
Several workers also received complaints when they used shared or public rest areas as they were misunderstood to be skiving, the tripartite partners found during the consultations.
Some of the recommendations in the guidelines include providing workers with lockers for their belongings, access to drinking water and having adequate ventilation in these rest areas.
Rest areas should also offer workers privacy by being located in the back-of-house or out of public view, the guidelines suggested. If it is not practical, companies can put up signs to indicate that the space is used as a rest area for outsourced workers.
During a company visit to IKEA Alexandra, Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said that of the around 200 worksites MOM officers went to, about 70 per cent of them had rest areas, but “a number of them were not up to mark”. The advisory can offer benchmarks for how rest areas should be, he said.
He advised companies to create a culture where outsourced workers are treated as “extended family”, adding that looking after their well-being “is a win-win situation for most companies” so that the workers are motivated to do a good job.
When asked why the Government did not make it requisite for companies to provide these areas, Mr Zaqy responded that while it is easier to issue mandates, that "doesn't create the culture".
"We are at this mature state of society, do we not want to care for outsourced workers and treat them like our workers?" he said.
NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Zainal Sapari said that it can be difficult to carve out rest areas within older commercial buildings or condominiums, but they encourage building owners to share rest areas that they have for their employees with outsourced workers.
IKEA decided to dedicate some space within their parking lot area when they built their first branch in Alexandra in 1995.
After renovations in 2008, the rest area expanded to 32 sq m. It is used by about 55 outsourced workers, most of them cleaners from facilities service provider ISS.
There are tables, chairs, lockers, fridges and a microwave in the rest area. These workers are also allowed to purchased subsidised meals - lunches and dinners go for $2 per meal - offered to all IKEA employees.
They are also permitted to use another rest area for all IKEA employees on the second floor.
Janet Lee, the HR manager of IKEA Alexandra, said that the rest area is “a basic need” for the workers to “work well in our store”. It is “good for us, and good for them”.
Lew Chai Foong, 53, who has worked as a cleaner at the furniture store for five years, noted that the room they have is clean and has air-conditioning. The workers are rostered to clean the room and everyone has been cooperative so far, she said.
Assistant general manager of ISS Simon David said that the retention rate at IKEA Alexandra is high as most of the staff are happy working at the store.
Of the 1,700 companies that ISS serves, about half already have rest areas, but some need to be improved, he said.
Previously, having a rest area for outsourced workers was a “non-event”, but more companies have started to look into creating rest areas since the Government announced they were looking into this issue earlier this year, he added.