SINGAPORE: There are now 1,176 cleaning companies licensed under a mandatory licensing regime introduced in 2014, to improve standards and productivity within the sector. Along with that, resident cleaners have also seen their wages go up.
One licensing requirement is cleaners be paid at least, S$1,000 a month under a Progressive Wage Model (PWM).
Rajetheran, 42, is among the resident cleaners who have benefited from these rules.
He has been working as a cleaner for seven years, with a starting pay of S$850 a month. Since the Progressive Wage Model kicked in, he now earns S$1,250. He has also undergone two Workforce Skills Qualification courses and is now able to operate specialised cleaning machines, making him a more productive worker.
"When I go for courses they increase my pay,” he said. “At the same time we do machines, so it improves my skills also."
There are currently 38,500 resident cleaners - Singapore citizens and PRs - in Singapore. For a long time, they had been under-valued and under-paid - the result of outsourcing and a reliance on cheap foreign labour.
"Before we developed the Progressive Wage Model, there could have been market failure, where the cleaners were not being paid according to their job value," said NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Zainal Sapari.
The cleaning sector is the first to have the Progressive Wage Model as a mandatory licensing requirement. The other sector is security and most recently, the landscape industry.
Since the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners released its recommendations in 2012, median basic wages have risen from S$820 a month in June 2012, to S$950 a year later- a 16 per cent increase, compared to a mere five per cent rise between 2011 and 2012.
'MAKE SURE THEY ARE PAID FAIRLY'
More than 26,500 resident cleaners are now paid at least S$1,000 a month - the entry-level pay under the Progressive Wage Model. The figure accounts for nearly 70 per cent of the resident cleaner workforce.
"The intention of PWM is to make sure that - for those who decide to be cleaners - they are paid fairly, that commensurate with their skills, productivity as well as their job responsibility,” said Mr Zainal. “We also want to make sure that those who decide to become cleaners, there is a career progression for them where they can look forward to better wages, if they are willing to upgrade their skills or assume positions of higher responsibility.
“It's a bit difficult to say whether the salary that is being paid to them would be enough. We are hoping for them to be paid better wages, but at the end of the day, I think this is a good step to make sure that we are fair and allow the cleaners to grow in the job."
As part of the licensing requirement, all cleaning companies must comply with the Progressive Wage Model by September this year. And moving forward, Mr Zainal says more attention will need to be placed on the training, productivity and career ladders.
"We do notice based on feedback on the ground that there is some resistance from the cleaners to attend training,” said Mr Zainal. “There needs to be more outreach to explain to them the rationale, why we need to ensure that the productivity, the skills ladder, as well as the career ladder could actually be further enhanced."
Clear career progression pathways have also been mapped out.
With training, a general cleaner at a hawker centre for example, can move up to become a table-top cleaner, dishwasher or refuse collector, then a multi-skilled cleaner or machine operator, with up to a supervisor earning at least S$1,600 a month.
The Labour Movement is now focusing its efforts on sectors like retail, F&B and logistics. But it will be an uphill task, given there are no levers - such as licensing requirements - to force these sectors to comply with a Progressive Wage Model.
"We do acknowledge it could be difficult to find the appropriate levers such as licensing in order to ensure greater traction. So the approach that we have been taking is really to focus on the three key sectors - Cleaning, Security and Landscape - that we are focusing on now and hopefully there will be a ripple down effect on the wages being paid to the other low wage workers in the other sectors as well," said Mr Zainal.