SINGAPORE: By the end of this year, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will come up with guidelines for companies to create proper rest areas for low-wage workers such as cleaners, security guards and landscaping workers.
The ministry started gathering feedback at the start of April by interviewing workers and employers to take stock of where and how cleaners rest.
Since then, MOM inspectors have visited 20 out of a projected 200 sites which include places such as food courts, shopping malls and commercial buildings.
“While building owners may set aside spaces within their buildings as storage rooms and rest areas for cleaners, the state of these rest areas differs greatly,” said Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad on Tuesday (Apr 16) at MOM’s annual work plan seminar.
Currently, rest areas range from makeshift rest areas at staircases, open public areas to poorly ventilated and cluttered storage rooms.
Labour Member of Parliament Zainal Sapari, who spoke in support of providing proper rest areas for workers during the Committee of Supply debate, said that many workers are uncomfortable resting in open areas out of fear of being perceived as avoiding work.
“I think we need to also understand as we promote this, what’s practical, what are some of the things that our low wage workers, outsourced workers value most?” Mr Zaqy said.
MOM is conducting a survey which will help employers understand the needs of workers and inform the ministry’s guidelines.
Apart from a place to rest, cleaners said in the survey that they hope to have lockers, fans and water dispensers.
For a start, Socially-conscious Enterprise Hawker Centres (SEHCs) and schools already provide rest areas for their cleaners, Mr Zaqy said.
At SEHCs, cleaners’ rooms have been built in all seven hawker centres. The National Environment Agency is also committed to providing such rooms for all new and existing hawker centres, where possible, he said.
Similarly, the Ministry of Education has ensured a dedicated room in each of the over 300 schools for cleaners to rest.
Mr Zaqy said that MOM will be working with government agencies and town councils next.
CARVING OUT A REST AREA
While proper rest areas are not yet commonplace, property management company APM has carved out a 402 sq m space, called The Crystal Place, for its 300-odd in-house and outsourced field staff at Suntec City.
The space is for staff members who perform mall cleaning, office tower cleaning, security, technical, and landscaping and pest control duties.
There is a communal rest area with chairs and tables, and a pantry with microwave ovens and drink stations.
The rest of the space is divided into nine satellite offices for external service providers. Service providers have the freedom to configure their office such as into locker areas or recreational space.
Mr Anthony Yip, deputy chairman of APM, said that the space carved out was previously an empty space in Suntec City’s back-of-house area.
Typically, these back-of-house spaces, which are less attractive commercially and out of the way for the public, are used as storage spaces or passage ways.
“Instead of having spaces that are all over the place, the satellite spaces, we put them all together because we believe a central area is much more effective,” Mr Yip said.
The company paid a capital cost of less than S$20,000 to set up The Crystal Place, with air conditioning and music piped in from the mall. Cleaning of the communal space is done voluntarily by the two cleaning service providers using the area.
The monthly operation costs of running the space is limited to utilities, said Mr Yip.
The rest area, which is situated at Office Tower 5, is some distance away for staff stationed at the other end of Suntec City.
To cater for the additional time taken to walk to the rest area, cleaning supervisor K Ramesh, 55, said that his staff get an extra 10 minutes during their break.
Gardener Tan Cheng Hong, 70, who has been stationed at Suntec City for the last four years said that he goes to the rest area for lunch every day.
“We have two tea breaks at 10am and 3pm, and a lunch break at 12pm. … It takes about five minutes to get here from my working location. I’ll come here for lunch but during tea break, I will just go to the food court,” Mr Tan said.
“It’s comfortable to rest here. When we work and we’re tired, it’s relaxing to be here. After resting, we’ll be in a better mood to work.”