Mr A has been my neighbour for more than a decade. He should be in his late 60s and stay together with his wife. I usually just smile and engage them with small talk when we meet at the lift. I have never seen anyone visit them before. But I try to avoid bringing up the topic on children in case it stirs up negative emotions. Both he and his wife work as cleaners at the nearby malls. It is heart-wrenching to see them toiling away at such old age but you can see from their faces that they are proud of being able to earning a dignified honest source of income for themselves.
Mr A & his wife are probably one of the 150,000 Singaporean and Permanent Resident full time employees who are earning below the S$1,000 line in 2012. If Professionals, Managers, Executives and Business Owners (PMEBs) are already lamenting about ever increasing inflation and standards of living, can you imagine how it would be for our low wage workers?
I read in the news recently that because of the prevalence of cheap-sourcing (or service buyers awarding contracts to the service provider quoting the cheapest price), especially in cleaning and security industries, the wages of these low wage workers have not been progressing with the rising cost of living. In fact some of them could have even suffered pay cuts if the contract amount is reduced in order to win the tender.
The income gap for these low wage workers has substantially lagged behind the rest of the nation’s workforce over the years. The worst-off of these low wage workers are practically living from hand to mouth with no additional spare cash to save for rainy days.
New Mandatory Licensing
The light at the end of the tunnel has finally come for 55,000 cleaners when our government finally announced the implementation of the Progressive Wage Model as a mandatory licensing condition for all companies providing cleaning and security services. This comes two years after NTUC started campaigning for the Progressive Wage Model as a more effective method than minimum wage to provide workers with better pay and better jobs.
Beginning from September 2014, cleaning companies operating in Singapore must pay cleaners an entry-level salary of S$1,000 each month, up from the current median gross monthly wage of about S$850, and subsequently give increments in tandem with skills upgrading, productivity and career responsibilities. Next sector to be targeted will be the security industry. Service providers of the targeted sectors who do not comply will face penalties, as will the service buyers who do not source from licensed service providers.
Progressive Wage Model For Cleaners in 3 Sub-sectors
Proposed Training Guidelines for Cleaners
Cleaning companies were supportive of the Government’s move to mandate the Progressive Wage Model as a licensing condition, which allows them more opportunities to compete on quality and not solely on cost. In addition there is also a Progressive Wage Incentive which rewards service buyers for best-sourcing.
Support Responsible Sourcing
It is time that Singaporeans should start to move away from always getting the cheapest of the 3 quotations mentality. Cheapest is not always the best and it leads to a very unhealthy undercutting practice that is hindering our low wage workers from getting better pay. There are other factors such as reliability of service providers, after-sales services and responsiveness that we should consider, especially if the outsourced service affects our company’s image to our own customers.
Let’s Do More
The mandatory licensing of the Progressive Wage Model and move towards best-sourcing is a good step in the right direction to help low wage workers like Mr A and his wife have an opportunity to work towards better income. I believe I will be able to hear more of his hearty laughter these days.
Yet we as Singaporeans should not just conveniently leave everything to the government. We can play a part to make our low wage workers jobs more appreciated by giving them small gifts or flowers to show your appreciation for the great work that they have done!
Stop and give a smile to the cleaner who cleared your table for lunch today.