Following news that accelerated pay increases for cleaner will be implemented, but only for local employees, Transient Workers Count Too wrote to the Straits Times. On 16 December 2016, our letter was published.

Consider raising pay of foreign cleaners, too

Foreign visitors often comment on how clean Singapore is, perhaps not appreciating that there is an army of cleaners who make it that way.

These workers do a necessary job that most people don’t want to do, yet they are among the most poorly paid in the country. Moves to raise the basic pay of local cleaners (“Steps to hike pay for 40,000 cleaners unveiled”; Dec 13) are therefore welcome.

However, a thought should also be spared for the migrant workers who make up a significant proportion of Singapore’s cleaners and who are not covered by the recommendations of the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners. Many work long hours and still receive significantly less pay than what most local cleaners receive in a normal working week.

Bangladeshi cleaning workers are generally paid between $500 and $800 a month and work 12-hour days, whereas the current target for basic pay for a local worker is at least $1,000 a month for a standard working week, although they perform similar work.

Isn’t it time a determined effort was made to raise the pay of these low-paid workers, too?

Noorashikin A. Rahman (Dr)
Transient Workers Count Too

The background was an article in the newspaper and an opinion piece as below:

Steps to hike pay for 40,000 cleaners unveiled

Straits Times, 13 December 2016

Cleaners’ basic pay will go up by $200 in the next three years, starting from next July. It will then rise yearly by 3 per cent for three years.

Those employed by the same business for at least 12 months will get a yearly bonus, starting from 2020, of two weeks of basic monthly pay.

The recommendations, unveiled by the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners (TCC) yesterday, further boost the wages of some of Singapore’s lowest-paid workers.

Said National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari, who chairs TCC: “The (change) may be seen as a half-step, but (it) is a big half-step. This is the first time we are forcing an industry’s annual increments, as well as some form of bonus.”

The Government has accepted the recommendations, which will benefit about 40,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents employed by more than 1,200 cleaning firms.

Companies with service contracts that start before next July have until July 1, 2018 to comply with the recommended wages.

The TCC suggestions follow its review of the progressive wage model in the cleaning industry. The modelaims to raise the pay of low-wage workers through skills upgrading and improvements in productivity.

It applies to the cleaning, security and landscape sectors, and became compulsory for the cleaning industry in September last year.

The model specifies a starting pay of at least $1,000 a month for cleaners, with wages rising to $1,400 and more for higher-skilled cleaners, and from $1,600 for supervisors.

The median basic wage of full-time cleaners grew by 9 per cent per annum from 2012 to last year. It was $1,100 in June last year.

Said Mr Zainal: “We need to make employment terms and conditions better. Otherwise, the type of workers attracted to the cleaning industry will be the vulnerable ones.”

In an accompanying opinion piece by journalist Toh Yong Chuan (Straits Times, 13 December 2016, Giving cleaners a reason to celebrate – for six years), it was pointed out that the new proposal is a continuation of steady increments over the last few years.

Over the past few years, cleaners have seen their pay go up. As of June last year, they were earning a basic median salary of $1,100 a month, compared with about $800 just four years ago.

This was the result of a recommendation by a national committee of unionists, employers and civil servants in 2012 to set a minimum salary for local cleaners: Those cleaning offices will get at least $1,000 a month in basic pay and those cleaning hawker centres will get $1,200 a month.

A new law that kicked in from September last year also made it compulsory for cleaning companies to implement the minimum wages.

The new proposal is however more structured and spread over six years, such that a cleaner earning the floor of $1,000 a month will see his salary go up to $1,200 in 2019 and $1,312 in 2022. The new plan also has the government’s endorsement. The Singapore government has previously been against notions of mandatory minimum wages, preferring instead to see wages linked to productivity improvements.

For 10 long years, between 2001 and 2010, the wages of cleaners had been depressed. This was the decade which saw an influx of foreign workers doing low-wage jobs, which, in turn, depressed wages, and cleaners were particularly vulnerable as they were mostly older, less-educated workers who did not have many other job options.

While income figures for cleaners were not officially released, it is clear they earned well below the lowest quintile of workers. During that period, the nominal monthly income of the lowest quintile rose from $1,200 to $1,400. This increase worked out to real growth of only 0.3 per cent, almost flat, after adjusting for inflation.

Or course, the actual increase in purchasing power will depend on how much inflation there is in the coming years. Toh also wrote that the move could put pressure on two other low-wage sectors that hire locals — security and landscaping — to do the same.

Landscaping is another sector that has substantial numbers of foreign workers. If once again, a Progressive Wage Model is only introduced to benefit local employees, it would, as now amongst cleaners, produce a situation where we officially countenance discrimination, flouting the principle of equal pay for equal work.