Monday, 20 June 2016

Progressive Wage Model: Climbing the wage ladder


Progressive Wage Model ‘is not a magic wand’
Four years after the Progressive Wage Model was mooted, The Sunday Times looks at how it has benefited workers in the cleaning, security and landscaping sectors, and what challenges it faces.
By Olivia Ho, The Sunday Times, 19 Jun 2016

For many years, they - cleaners, security guards and gardeners - toiled hard for low wages that scarcely rose.

These wielders of brooms, clipboards or pruning shears were often parents, or even elderly grandparents, sometimes supporting whole families on their flatlined wages alone.

But a new wage model - the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) - introduced by the Government after the labour movement first championed it four years ago is changing that. It was made compulsory for Singaporeans and permanent residents in the cleaning sector nearly two years ago, where it set entry-level basic monthly pay at $1,000. Previously, the going rate was $850.

The PWM kicks in for the landscaping sector at the end of this month, and for the security sector on Sept 1. It is paying off for some.

Median wages for full-time resident cleaners, labourers and related workers rose from $1,000 a month in 2012 to $1,200 a month last year, a 20 per cent hike compared with the 16 per cent experienced by workers overall, says UniSIM economist Walter Theseira.

Ms Joey Wee, 40, reaped a $500 pay rise when she switched from being a linen attendant on $1,300 a month last October, to a $1,800 job as supervisor/cleaner at a hospital.

Under the PWM, a cleaning supervisor's minimum-level basic wage is $1,600.

She says: "It has been challenging to make the switch. But the pay is a big part of what attracted me."

The PWM also puts lowly-paid workers on the ladder to improve their skills and use technology that makes them work more efficiently.

In the three sectors, a total of about 85,500 resident workers will have benefited from the PWM, including 40,500 cleaners, 42,000 security officers and 3,000 landscape workers.

But problems have emerged too.

Some cleaners say that while the PWM raised their basic salaries from as low as $600 a month to $1,000, their pay has been stuck there since.

Cleaner Jamilah Palora, 69, who cleans corridors and scrubs toilets at a tertiary institution, says in Malay: "I do a lot of work but my salary doesn't go up. It's very disappointing. It is like we have no value."

Indeed, her salary is $100 below the $1,100 bar set by the National Wages Council (NWC), which recommends increments for workers earning up to that amount in basic monthly wage.

The tripartite partners - employers, unions and the Government - are in talks to review the wage ladder for cleaning, labour MP Zainal Sapari revealed to The Sunday Times.

Mr Zainal, who is National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general, declined to say what sort of wage increase is being considered.

To make matters worse, employers bidding to retain a contract with established workers due for a pay rise are undercut by rivals who base their tender price on entry-level pay rates.

If the newcomer takes over the workers at the site, the new employer can then reset their wages to the minimum, along with any other benefits, such as leave, that they might have accrued during the previous contract.

Says Mr Zainal: "The PWM is not a magic wand in terms of pushing wages up. We have to look at other aspects to improve the productivity of workers to make wage increases sustainable."

BIRTH OF THE WAGE MODEL

It has not been an easy run from June 21, 2012, when then NTUC secretary-general Lim Swee Say - now Manpower Minister - first mooted the idea of a "progressive wage" for cleaners.

The aim was part of an overall target of lifting the pay of low-wage workers in a way that ensured their skills and careers progressed too.

The labour movement wanted to structure career ladders in low-wage sectors, with pay benchmarks for each rung.

As workers climbed the ladder, they would earn more.

Today, the PWM is touted as a central means by which the Government, labour movement and employers can transform whole low-wage sectors .

Back in 2012, the cleaning sector was first targeted.

Mr Lim wanted 10,000 cleaners to earn wages of at least $1,000 a month by 2015.

Those already earning that sum would have their wages gradually scaled up as they upgraded their skills.

But this proved an uphill task as employers, concerned about rising costs, dug in their heels.

When the labour movement first tried to push the model into the security sector as well in 2013, talks stalled when security associations rebuffed the timeline to raise guards' pay.

However, legislation worked where moral suasion failed.

By September 2014, all cleaning companies had to be licensed to operate after a law amendment, and to be licensed, they needed to abide by the wage guidelines.

Mr Lim tells The Sunday Times that he was "heartened by this first breakthrough".

"It is never an easy task to push through any new wage system," he says. "It takes many years."

Similar licensing requirements will follow for landscaping and security.

Elsewhere, the model has had success in voluntary adoption in sectors such as transport and healthcare. In 2013, SMRT brought in the scheme for more than 2,000 bus drivers, raising their wages by as much as $1,000 a month.

About 5,000 low-wage healthcare workers also got a 15 per cent pay hike in 2014, two years after public hospitals, polyclinics and national health centres voluntarily adopted the model.

Sectors such as pest control and environment management ought to be next to adopt the PWM, says Mr Lim.

DID IT WORK?

On paper, the PWM would seem to have had a positive effect on pay.

Certainly, the years of its implementation have coincided with significant wage growth.

Singapore Management University (SMU) economics professor Hoon Hian Teck examined the average growth rate of gross wages, including employers' Central Provident Fund contributions, for full-time resident cleaners, labourers and related workers.

From 2008 to 2012 - the year the wage ladder was first announced - this was 2.6 per cent. From 2013 to last year, it was 7.3 per cent.

However, Prof Hoon, along with UniSIM's Dr Theseira, both caution that other factors could be at play, such as fewer foreign workers in the same period.

Says Prof Hoon: "This could also have put an upward pressure on wage earnings."

Dr Theseira theorises that the scarcity of manpower, thanks to foreign labour controls, set the stage for the PWM's effectiveness.

He says: "Low-skill labour is, to a considerable extent, substitutable across different kinds of low-skill jobs. Therefore, anything which increases wages in one sector will have some spillover effects, simply through the higher labour supply in that sector drawing away manpower from other sectors.

"This would pressure employers in uncovered sectors to also raise wages."

In the security sector, where foreign worker regulations are strictest, the manpower shortage is so severe it could be artificially inflating wages, says Association of Certified Security Agencies president Robert Wiener.

Manpower Ministry data shows that last year, there were 2,010 vacancies for security guards, and 1,440 stayed unfilled after six months.

"That's a big problem, you're getting wage escalation that is maybe a little unrealistic," says Mr Wiener. "Hopefully the PWM encourages more people to come into the industry, but we have not seen that happening yet."

MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC Chong Kee Hiong agrees that companies could be pressured into adopting the PWM to attract or retain a shrinking pool of workers.

Mr Chong, who is a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, says: "Under current conditions where the labour market continues to be tight, employees will choose employers who can offer not only a fair wage but also opportunities for training and career progression.

"Employers should not just view productivity as using fewer resources at a lower cost to achieve the same output.

"They should also have a vision of how to achieve higher and better output with more and better-quality resources."

PROBLEMS FOR EMPLOYERS

According to NTUC, 473 companies had adopted the PWM by last September, whether because it was mandatory they do so, or whether it was a voluntary move by them.

That is over 200 more than in November the year before, which was just two months after the model was introduced for cleaners.

But much more could be done.

Indeed, only 18 per cent of companies followed NWC recommendations in giving their low-wage workers a pay rise of at least $60 last year.

Company bosses in cleaning, security and landscaping say they welcome the PWM in principle, but repeat gripes that they are being squeezed by those who hire their services.

They also lament that even as they try to adjust to the higher wages and training requirements, they do not see a concomitant increase in productivity.

Mr Dennis Tan, general manager of cleaning firm LS 2 Services, says that his attempt to follow the wage model has cost him "so many contracts, I lost count".

Of rival firms which undercut him in tender bids, he says: "I don't know how they arrive at the price while still under the PWM. Maybe they lose money, or miscalculate."

Mr John Tan, who runs landscape firm Esmond, says clients are reluctant to recognise they need to fork out more to invest in better quality.

"If you look at the tender price from 10 years ago, it hasn't gone up," he says. "We keep paying our workers higher and higher, yet you never change."

For LS 2, investing in technology such as in two scrubbing machines it spent $15,000 on last month, has helped meet faster turnaround times demanded by clients.

But Mr Tan is unsure he can say the same for training his workers.

"Most of my cleaners are senior citizens aged 60 and above," he says. "They are not keen on training, so they just go through the motions."

Staff must do their part to stay on top of the productivity drive, says NTUC. It tells The Sunday Times: "Workers must embrace lifelong learning to be future-proof. They must go for continuing training to remain relevant."

Employers are not short of help when it comes to funding to step up training and technology, with a slew of schemes they can tap, such as the Inclusive Growth Programme.

The $100 million fund, started by the labour movement in 2010, is meant to help industries redesign and improve productivity, while gains are shared with workers through higher wages.

But for some firms, especially in security, it is often hard to convince clients that technology, not warm bodies, is the way to go.

Says Security Association (Singapore) president T. Mogan: "Buyers want a more hands-on effect, they want to see three people guarding day in, day out.

"If somebody breaks in, they will say, 'Look what happened because you asked us to depend on systems.'"

Mr Mogan has in the past disagreed with the labour movement over the PWM, although he now insists his comments were misconstrued. It was not that he did not want the wage hikes, he says, only that he thought firms needed more time to make them happen.

Has the Sept 1 deadline for the security industry given them that breathing space?

"No," he says. "We need at least another year and a half."

THE ISSUE OF CHEAP SOURCING

One thing the PWM has failed to solve is "cheap sourcing", a phenomenon prevalent in all three sectors.

Companies bidding for service contracts often suppress workers' wages so they can keep prices low and win tenders.

Some workers thus find their wages being "reset" whenever contracts are renewed every three years.

The wage increments they received in those years, along with additional days of leave or benefits such as annual wage supplements, are cut back to what they were originally.

Mr Zainal points out that those purchasing these firms' services hold the upper hand in determining how much the latter can afford to pay their workers.

He has repeatedly called for the Government to lead the way and show "concrete proof" that when the Government itself outsources services, it takes into consideration not just price, but how responsibly the service provider treats workers.

In the latest NWC guidelines last month, the Government said it will lead by example and "strongly encourages suppliers to the public sector to adopt NWC recommendations on wage increments for their workers".

Mr Zainal calls this a positive step. "There is still the challenge of the private sector, but we hope they can take their cue from the public sector," he says.

Mr Milton Ng, president of the Environmental Management Association of Singapore, suggests service buyers build a "cost-escalation clause" into their contracts, one which takes into account yearly wage increments.

Buyers could also consider longer-term contracts so that companies and their workers would be in less of a state of flux, he says.

LOOKING AHEAD

Might a gloomy economic forecast rain on the PWM's parade, as companies tighten their belts for leaner months and use this as an excuse to cinch workers' wages?

Mr Desmond Choo, who is director of the PWM at NTUC, begs to differ. Slackening growth, he says, could in fact be a boon for companies that might have been unable to spare workers for training during the upturn.

"The better and more progressive companies will see this as an opportunity to restructure and transform to capture future growth," he says.

"When some of these weaker companies fall off the scene, stronger companies will come in and say, 'I can do it better.'"

Mr Lim, meanwhile, feels that there is still much scope to further strengthen the scheme by, for instance, creating tiers within tiers to help weaker workers climb.

"Besides helping workers to move up the PWM from one job grade to the next higher job grade... we also want to help workers to progress within the same job grade," he says."This is a good start, but we are just at the beginning of a long journey."





Tweaks to tenders 'can reduce risk of worker pay cuts'
By Joanna Seow, The Sunday Times, 19 Jun 2016

Labour MP Zainal Sapari believes that tweaks to how tenders are evaluated can reduce the risk of pay and benefits of outsourced workers being cut every few years.

Under the current system, companies bidding for public sector contracts have little incentive to raise workers' pay beyond the minimum specified by the progressive wage model, said Mr Zainal, who is assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

One thing the Government could do to create a level playing field between newcomers and incumbent companies bidding for contracts is to give a discount for renewals, he told The Sunday Times.

Companies trying to renew their contracts may then bid at a higher price as they add annual leave or pay increments for their workers.

"If the existing companies offer $1,100, and a new company offers $1,000, a discount could mean they would be given the same score for price when it comes to evaluation," said Mr Zainal, who heads the NTUC unit overseeing low-wage workers.

The Government could also specify in tender documents that workers cannot be made worse off by a new contract, or even list some of the benefits workers should receive, such as an annual wage supplement, he added. "The unions are more than happy to help in monitoring," he said, pointing out that most companies that tender for government contracts are unionised.

Mr Milton Ng, president of the Environmental Management Association of Singapore, also suggested that when awarding three-year contracts, the service buyer could look at whether the service provider has a plan to increase wages each year.

The Finance Ministry said it will not be fair to arbitrarily set a discount for the incumbent contractor, as the bid price for each tenderer may not be entirely attributed to wage costs. "We are mindful that the Government is ultimately spending public funds," said a spokesman, adding that public contracts cover around a tenth of the cleaning and security services workforce.

Rather than specifying wages or benefits in tender documents, incorporating these into licensing or accreditation requirements is more effective since these apply to both public sector and private sector contracts, the spokesman said.

Industry experts said workers in the heavily-outsourced industries of security, cleaning, and landscaping are often older and are unlikely to look for a better-paying job elsewhere even if they lose out under a new contract.

School cleaner Leong Sau Keng, 65, who has worked at the same school in the west of Singapore for 12 years, said her pay has been cut twice under new contracts as the new company made its bid based on lower salaries.

A few years ago, her pay was cut from $650 to $550, she recalled in Mandarin. "They said, 'if you don't want to do, there are other people'."

Although her pay has gone up substantially since then, thanks to the progressive wage model - a wage ladder which links pay rises to skills upgrading and sets a minimum pay of $1,000 for cleaners - there is no guarantee it will rise any further in her current role. She has seen her pay drop by $50 to $1,000 after the most recent change in contracts.






Maximum result, 'minimum' input
By Olivia Ho, The Sunday Times, 19 Jun 2016

It was meant to be Singapore's answer to the much-touted "minimum wage" policy adopted by some countries, but which the Republic rejected back then. This is the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) concept introduced by the labour movement in 2012.

Its emphasis is on increasing the salaries of workers through upgrading their skills and improving productivity.

But four years on, the very success that the PWM is now enjoying could ironically be due in part to what it drew from the minimum wage structure, say economists.

The PWM has ended up prescribing minimum wages in certain sectors. Hence, it has functioned as a sectoral minimum wage in cleaning, security and landscape, where companies in those businesses must adopt the model to be licensed to operate, they say.

This has resulted in what National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) director of industrial relations Desmond Choo calls an "unqualified success" in those sectors.

Nanyang Technological University economics professor Chew Soon Beng says of the PWM: "It works like a minimum wage. Firms have to pay fixed wages for each grade of workers."

The lowest basic monthly wage in each sector is $1,000 for cleaners, $1,100 for security guards and $1,300 for landscape workers.

The evolution of the PWM charts, among other things, a marked shift in the way the Government and the labour movement regard wage intervention. In the past, the term "minimum wage" was practically a taboo, implying as it did a salary floor across all industries.

Instead, the parties involved preferred to stress the "progressive" aspect of their model, in which workers would not be stuck at a minimum wage but would move upwards in tandem with productivity.

They coupled this with the Workfare Income Supplement, which supplements the income and retirement savings of eligible workers aged 35 and above earning a monthly income of up to $1,900, and the Workfare Training Support scheme, which funds skill upgrading for low-wage workers.

As labour chief in 2012, Mr Lim Swee Say called the concept of a minimum wage "something we don't embrace", saying he preferred cooperation to legislation.

He argued then that a minimum wage set too low would not help lift the pay of low-wage workers. But having the minimum wage set too high would make low-wage workers unemployable, as companies would find them too expensive.

He pointed to the woes in some European countries, where high minimum wages were keeping fresh graduates out of the job market.

When the law was amended in Parliament in January 2014 to legislate the tiered wage model for cleaners, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam noted that even in the United States, where the minimum wage is much lower than in Europe, the majority of the poor are unemployed, not in work.

Today, Mr Lim has softened his tone towards the term, referring to the PWM as a "ladder of minimum wages".

But entrepreneur and former Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Inderjit Singh still feels the PWM should be extended further along the lines of a minimum wage to other industries with low-wage earners. He named production operators, retail assistants and coffee shop assistants as those who need such help.

Mr Singh, who has criticised the PWM in previous Parliament sittings and who has called for a national salary floor of $1,500, says: "The PWM is a good start to see how a minimum wage can work, but we now have to consider making it a minimum wage system for all workers."

But outside the three sectors in which it can draw upon licensing requirements to enforce, the PWM's success hinges entirely on the goodwill of employers.

The NTUC has tried to move the model into the retail and hospitality sectors, but this attempt has yet to bear fruit because it lacks leverage - that is, industry-wide licensing requirements with which it can regulate the model's adoption.





The security guard: $400 pay hike in six months
By Olivia Ho, The Sunday Times, 19 Jun 2016

Asked to describe the job of a security guard, one might say " "tedious", perhaps, or even "boring".

But security supervisor Wan Teruna calls it "fast-paced".

The 37-year-old says: "I'm always walking around, clocking in, talking to people."

Mr Wan has spent just over six months at security firm Soverus, but he has a decade's worth of experience in the industry.

He supervises teams of about five guards at locations such as industrial complexes, condominiums and shopping centres.

He works 12-hour shifts six days a week, spending at least eight hours a day on his feet.

Security, the second low-wage industry to receive the Progressive Wage Model, tops all other industries when it comes to working overtime.

The sector has the highest average weekly overtime per worker, said a 2014 report by the Security Tripartite Cluster (STC) which made recommendations to lift guards' wages and structure their career progression.

Security officers clock as much as 95 hours of overtime each month, which exceeds the monthly limit of 72 hours under the Employment Act. Their agencies have to apply for overtime exemptions.

The STC report called this heavy reliance on overtime "deleterious and unsustainable", as it compromises the guards' welfare and puts off newcomers, worsening the industry's dire manpower shortage.

The undeterred, like Mr Wan, are rare. "I'm not the kind of person who can sit at a desk and work a five-day office job," he says. "I like to be on the ground."


He now earns $1,500 a month in basic wages, but overtime raises this to $2,600.

When he first started as a guard 10 years ago, he earned a basic salary of $600 a month, reaching $1,000 after five years.

The same $400 pay hike took him just half a year to achieve after starting at Soverus last November at a basic wage of $1,100.

Mr Wan, who has a one-year-old son, moved over from his previous company because of family benefits such as annual bursaries of between $120 and $180 for workers' children.

It did not hurt, either, that Soverus guards get salary reviews twice a year, during which they are assured of monthly wage increments of at least $25.

The security sector drove wage increases in administrative and support services last year. More than one in three employers in this area gave at least $60 built-in wage increases to staff earning up to $1,100, significantly higher than in other industries.

Soverus has 800 security officers. General manager Kelvin Goh says it has been a "mad rush" sending staff for training before the PWM deadline for the security sector kicks in on Sept 1.

The training, meant to elevate the security officers' skills to match higher wage levels, will cost the firm $600,000. About 60 to 70 per cent will be subsidised by government funding, but this does not include salaries paid to staff while doing training.

Besides mandatory courses, Mr Goh wants staff trained in customer service and counter-terrorism - even if this means paying trainers extra to go and give instruction to guards at their workplace, to save time. He says: "Ten, 15 years ago, this was just a 'jaga' (Malay for 'guard') job where you stared at the wall. Now, clients expect more."

Soverus has also invested in technology to cut down on manual work done by guards. A new system scans the identity cards of visitors into a computer, where previously guards had to manually record details.

Under PWM, Mr Wan has attended a course on how to manage personnel, and is slated for another about the legal framework in security. He hopes to become an operations manager in two years, a role in which he would oversee about 60 officers - and which can command up to $6,000 a month.





The cleaner: Lower-wage staff lose out
By Olivia Ho, The Sunday Times, 19 Jun 2016

Every day, Madam Lee Yew Tin lugs bags of garbage a distance of two Olympic swimming pools, a journey she makes at least twice a day.

When the 68-year-old became a cleaner about three years ago, she earned a basic wage of $1,000. Since then, she has had a pay rise of... Nothing.

She works nine hours a day, five days a week, sweeping corridors and clearing rubbish.

"It's very tiring and my legs hurt all the time now," she says in Mandarin, declining to name her employer or the place at which she works, saying it might affect her job.

Madam Lee is among low-wage workers affected by a trend in which companies, wanting to save costs, outsource services to the cheapest service provider. However, those successful tenderers often are able to win the service contract only because they cut back on wage rises given previously.

This is because the PWM requires only the minimum pay tied to each tier of the model. Hence, with a typical cleaning contract lasting three years, the winning bidder can "reset" a worker's wages to minimum.

Only 42 per cent of companies with outsourced workers gave their low-wage workers a pay rise of at least $60 last year, as recommended by the National Wages Council. Its guidelines apply to workers earning up to $1,100 a month in basic wages.

Madam Lee, who has diabetes, does not get any medical benefits from her company.

She will also lose any additional days of leave she accumulates through her service every time her contract is renewed.

She does not want to burden her three children, who are in their 30s and 40s, with her upkeep, but fears she may have to resort to this by the end of the year.

"The work is too hard for this kind of money," she says.


Her story is a far cry from that of Ms Joey Wee, a relative newcomer to the industry, yet already on the other end of the spectrum.

Ms Wee, 40, joined cleaning firm ISS last October as a supervisor heading a team of 20 cleaners at a hospital. But despite her leadership role, the job requires her to get her hands dirty from time to time.

She left her linen attendant job for the cleaning industry to get a $500 pay hike in monthly wages.

She earns $1,800 a month at ISS, up from $1,300 when she led a team that distributed linen at another hospital.

Under PWM, a cleaning supervisor earns at least $1,600 in basic monthly wages. If Ms Wee reaches the level of a cleaning executive, she could earn at least $2,000 a month.

Ms Wee had no notion of what the PWM was, but the linen distribution industry has no such model in place and she knew greener pastures when she saw them.

Still, the new job has not been without its challenges. She recalls her hesitation at cleaning her first bloodstain. "You don't know where the blood is from. It could be from someone infected."

Once, she spent two hours scrubbing a mysterious yellow stain on the floor from a chemical spill.

Making her role a little easier are the tools of the trade, as ISS increases automation for its 4,000- plus cleaners.

Machinery they are trained to use includes burnishing machines, with which they polish the floor, and the iMop, a recent addition which does the job in a third of the time it would take with a regular mop.

Even so, Ms Wee says the job is so tough it sometimes brings workers in her charge to tears.

"Sometimes the staff get emotional, saying there are too many things to do. I have to talk to them, slowly calm them down."

She adds: "As supervisors we have to be hands-on as well. We have to do the work to show we know it is tiring, that we don't just 'see' only."





The gardener: Rosier outlook, thanks to training
Gardener's $1,300 salary barely enough to support family of six, but he stands to earn more with new wage model
By Olivia Ho, The Sunday Times, 19 Jun 2016

What with household expenses and medical bills for his disabled stepson, gardener Md Yasin Ithnin is living hand to mouth on a basic salary of $1,300 a month.

This is less than one-sixth of the median household income from work, which rose to $8,666 last year.

Yet, the 57-year-old considers this to be a good wage, compared with what he used to get.

He could earn more as a new wage ladder for the landscaping industry comes into force this month.

When Mr Yasin started in the industry nine years ago, he earned $900 a month caring for the gardens at a foreign embassy.

He never got beyond a $100 increase in all the seven years he had worked for the same company. Hoping for better prospects, he joined Prince's Landscape and Construction in 2014, a year before the firm began preparations to be part of the Progressive Wage Model (PWM).


In April this year, he was among the landscape workers Prince sent for training to meet the June 30 deadline for the landscaping industry to adopt the model.

His $1,300 salary is the lowest rung of the PWM for the industry.

For Mr Yasin, it was the first time he had gone for any sort of landscaping training.

"I was very scared," admits Mr Yasin, who went for courses conducted on Prince's premises and at the Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology, where he learnt to operate machinery such as hedge trimmers.

He explains: "My English is no good because I was too poor to go to school. I was scared I couldn't understand. But I learnt a lot. Now I understand more about the plants."

Prince has 62 local landscape workers, more than 60 per cent of whom have completed the first phase of training.

Mr Yasin, a former cleaner who decided he preferred working outdoors, works nine hours a day, from 8am to 5pm, maintaining greenery at a hotel. He pots yellow palms and arranges flower beds, trims money plants and checks leaves for fungal growth.

"Last time, I just watered the plants and made sure they didn't die," he says.

"Now, the courses show me how I can really take care of the plants and make them look good."

The long hours in the sun have left him with a perennial backache. "But I cannot relax," says the sole breadwinner of his family of six.

His wife Nor Hayati, 49, has three children from a previous marriage and a sickly mother in her 80s. The older children, who are 21-year-old twins, study at the Institute of Technical Education.

The youngest son, Muhammad Nur Ashakir Zulazmi, 19, has neuromuscular scoliosis - a curved spine that leaves him unable to walk - and recently became blind from cataracts. His mother stays at home to care for him.

Mr Yasin lists just a few of the family's monthly bills: $138 for their rental flat in Teck Whye, $120 for electricity bills, $150 for his stepson's medicine and $100 for his mother-in-law's medicine.

There are also daily necessities such as adult diapers and milk powder for his stepson, who cannot eat solids. Last year, they spent $9,000 from an insurance policy so that Mr Nur Ashakir could undergo a spinal operation.

Mr Yasin also seeks out part-time work on weekends, such as grasscutting or cleaning. "I can earn $20 and use it for bus fare or to buy my son diapers," he says.

"It's not easy, but at least with this job, I make enough.

"Plus the company lets me take time off to take my son to hospital."

Under the PWM, if Mr Yasin undergoes sufficient training to qualify as a landscape technician, he will earn at least $1,500 a month.

If he rises to the level of landscape supervisor, he would get at least $2,100.

He estimates it would cost $4,000 a month to get daycare for Mr Nur Ashakir so that Madam Hayati, a former security guard, could return to work. But she still hopes to buy their own flat one day.

Says Mr Yasin: "Money is not important to me. Everything I earn goes to the children. If I can spend time with them, it's good enough."





Timeline for Progressive Wage Model

JUNE 21, 2012

Then Labour chief Lim Swee Say first moots the idea of a wage ladder for cleaners tied to skills and career progression.

JUNE 10, 2013

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) announces that all cleaning companies must pay workers at least $1,000 a month in a year's time in order to be licensed.

SEPT 10, 2013

Talks between NTUC and security associations to get the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) applied to security guards stall.

SEPT 1, 2014

PWM takes effect in the cleaning sector.

OCT 29, 2014

PWM for the security sector announced.

APRIL 25, 2015

PWM for the landscape sector announced.

JUNE 30, 2016

PWM takes effect in the landscape sector.

SEPT 1, 2016

PWM takes effect in the security sector.


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