SINGAPORE — Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday rose in support of the move towards a tiered wage system in the cleaning industry, even though some expressed concern over the impact on firms and the link between productivity gains and a wage rise.
The seven MPs who spoke, including two from the Workers’ Party, supported the changes to the Environmental Public Health Act.
A licensing regime for cleaning businesses will be set up, under which firms must pay local cleaners an entry-level salary of S$1,000 a month and subsequently give increments in tandem with skills upgrading.
Those who are trained to handle cleaning machines will earn at least S$1,400 and a supervisor will receive S$1,600. An estimated 55,000 local cleaners are expected to benefit from the change.
MP Irene Ng (Tampines GRC) felt the link between productivity and a wage rise should not be overemphasised, as the scope for short-term increased productivity in the sector might be limited.
Most of the local cleaners are older and less educated, and she feared they might get the short end of the stick if they had to show higher productivity before getting a raise.
Non-constituency MP Gerald Giam also questioned if the Government had conducted studies to validate the assumption that training would lead to improved productivity in the industry.
“I believe, for most general cleaners, on-the-job training, hands-on experience and a good working attitude will be more effective and productive than 15 working days of classroom training,” he said.
Ms Ng also suggested that foreign workers be included under the move, so they could enjoy a wage increase. “Foreign cleaners generally work longer hours and have a greater share of the heavier and dirtier work. As a matter of principle, we should pay according to the value of the job,” she said.
In response to the MPs’ queries, Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said the amendments are aimed at ensuring a level playing field for better and more enlightened employers, who might otherwise be undercut by less-progressive businesses.
“We want to be careful not to micro-manage (and) not to increase costs. We don’t want to add administrative burdens to our companies, especially to our SMEs, at a time like this when they are facing so much stress because of the curtailed access to foreign labour,” he said.
While Dr Balakrishnan acknowledged that it is very difficult to increase productivity in the sector, he said that there is a role and place for training.
On why foreign cleaners are not included in the Act, Dr Balakrishnan said his responsibility is to Singaporeans, while adding that higher wages for foreign workers would be an extra burden for local companies.