Saturday 23 June 2012

NTUC to raise wages for cleaners

It sets target of at least $1,000 a month for 10,000 cleaners by 2015
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2012

THE National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has set a target to raise the salaries of low-wage cleaners: It wants 10,000 cleaners to earn wages of at least $1,000 a month by 2015.

This is slightly more than one-fifth the number of local cleaners, the majority of whom are earning less than $1,000 every month. There are about 69,000 cleaners in Singapore.

The way the labour union will accomplish this is through their employers - by subsidising operating costs that will in turn raise company productivity. This might include, for example, the purchase of more efficient cleaning equipment. The companies then share their productive savings by raising the pay of its cleaners.

Called the progressive wage concept, the initiative is the latest in a series of coordinated plans by the Government and labour movement to improve the lot of Singapore's cleaners.

Under the concept, wages will be gradually scaled up. For those already earning $1,000, their salaries may be raised to $1,200.

Cleaners who operate specialised machinery, such as scrubbers, may have their incomes bumped up to $1,500.

The progressive wage concept was introduced yesterday at a cleaning industry forum by labour chief Lim Swee Say, who said the move would help dispel the notion that cleaning jobs were 'dead-end jobs'.

Cleaners can look forward to systematically upgrading their skills in order to earn higher pay, Mr Lim said.

To attract more companies to take part in the initiative, NTUC also said yesterday it would do more to subsidise cleaning firms.

At the forum held at the Employment and Employability Institute at Redhill yesterday, it presented to 70 representatives from cleaning companies, industry associations and town councils examples of cleaning equipment where it said it would foot half the bill.

The funds will come from NTUC's Inclusive Growth Programme (IGP) launched in 2010 to encourage companies to improve their productivity levels.

The programme received a boost in May when Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced that the Government would pump another $70 million into the scheme.

Since the IGP was launched, it has spent about $30 million. Of the more than 400 companies which tapped into the programme, there were only 28 cleaning companies, out of more than 900 in Singapore. Using the IGP's funds, the 28 firms raised the incomes of some 600 cleaners.

During the Budget Debate in February, Mr Tharman singled out cleaners as an example of low-income Singaporeans who had not seen their salaries go up in the past five years.

Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin said in Parliament last month that cleaning companies accredited by the National Environment Agency will soon be required to pay 'appropriate wages' to their workers who have undergone training.

Last month, the National Wages Council accepted an NTUC proposal to give a $50 pay hike to workers earning less than $1,000 - including cleaners.

NTUC's announcement yesterday was cautiously welcomed by cleaning companies.

Ms Sharon Kee, project director of Horsburgh Engineering, a cleaning company with less than 100 cleaners, said that buyers' attitude is key.

'It ultimately depends on whether NTUC can persuade cleaning service buyers to pay more,' she said.

Mr Woon Chiap Chan, managing director of ISS Facility Services, which has 6,000 cleaners on its payroll, agreed. He now pays his cleaners at least $850 each month, and said he was prepared to raise the pay when there are productivity gains.

Mr Woon added, however, that it was possible the initiative would not work if cleaning service buyers are not prepared to pay more to cleaning companies that are productive.

Cleaning firms may then continue to suppress their workers' salaries - in spite of productivity savings - if they think raising their wages would make them less competitive in a contract market where the lowest price usually wins.

This, in turn, would discourage companies from improving productivity, Mr Woon said, adding: 'This is my biggest fear.'

School cleaner Tan Ngin Choon was also sceptical.

The 58-year-old works nine hours a day, five days a week for a basic pay of $770. Although she is now learning to use a burnishing machine that cleans and polishes floors, she is unsure whether her boss will increase her pay after she masters the equipment.

'I don't have much education and I am grateful for this job, so I depend on my boss,' she said.

Swee Say: Cooperation rather than legislation on wages
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2012

LABOUR chief Lim Swee Say yesterday rejected the idea of using the law to set a minimum wage for low-wage workers, reiterating a long-held position of the labour movement.

'The concept of minimum wage is something that we don't embrace,' said Mr Lim, who added that the preferred method in Singapore was cooperation - rather than legislation.

Mr Lim said that his biggest worry was that a minimum wage would lead to a gridlock between unions and companies.

He described the process of negotiation as a 'sticky' one - where on one side, unions want higher wages to improve the lives of their workers; but on the other side, companies want to lower wages, citing business costs.

Cooperation was the better approach, Mr Lim concluded. This way, both the unions and companies can use their time to work out a 'progressive wage' ladder - thereby allowing workers to be motivated to upgrade their skills - and incomes.

This was the 'very pragmatic' approach the labour movement has taken, Mr Lim said.

The labour chief also pointed to the woes in Europe to illustrate what he thought were pitfalls to setting a minimum wage.

A minimum wage set too low will not help lift the pay of low-wage workers. On the other hand, having the minimum wage set too high will make low-wage workers unemployable because companies will not hire them.

Mr Lim also noted that the minimum wages in Europe today are set so high that many young graduates are unable to enter the job market. European countries are already talking about lowering the minimum wages, he said, without referring to any specific country.

Look at low-wage jobs in a different light: NTUC
By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 23 Jun 2012

The labour movement's plan to implement a progressive wage system for low-wage workers is aimed at encouraging tripartite partners and Singaporeans to look at low-wage jobs in a different light.

Labour chief Lim Swee Say told the media at a grassroots event that he wants to make today's low-wage jobs into tomorrow's jobs of the future.

He is confident this can be achieved in today's environment, compared with five years ago.

The NTUC will set wage targets for low-wage workers under its progressive wage approach.

Workers who are currently getting less than S$1,000 a month would strive to earn at least S$1,000. For those already earning S$1,000, NTUC wants to lift their wages to S$1,200.

NTUC Secretary-General Lim Swee Say explained that raising the wages of these low-wage workers is just the beginning.

"Not only do we want to help them to up their wages, we also have to do our very best to ensure their wages will go up faster rate than the medium wage.

"Secondly, we should not always look at the low-wages jobs as always a low-wage job, because the other developed countries have done in a very different way and the workers take pride in what they do, the public shows them respect and they earn a very decent salary," Mr Lim added.

The labour movement will kick off public education on the progressive wage structure with the cleaning sector, followed by the security, hospitality and food and beverage sectors.

On the private sector's response to the National Wages Council's recommendation to give a pay rise of S$50 or more for low-wage workers, Mr Lim said it is still too early to judge.

He said the message of helping low-wage workers with a more sustainable pace of wage increase is something that's not fully understood yet by the private sector.

Cleaner's pay doubles after learning tools of the trade
By Sherri Lee, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2012

A 62-YEAR-OLD cleaner who used to earn $800 a month now takes home $1,600 - double what he used to get.

Mr Johnny Lim's willingness to learn and keep up with the times have paid off.

Last year, the cleaner for more than a decade learnt how to operate a high-pressure washer with support from his company.

It may not have been easy getting used to the new technology at first but he persisted. 'As long as you have the attitude to learn, it won't be hard at all,' he said.

Now, Mr Lim manoeuvres the machine with ease and likens the experience to getting to grips with driving.

He did not just stop there. He also learnt how to operate other machines to clean carpets and scrub floors.

He gives the thumbs up to such devices, saying they reduced the amount of manual labour and made him less tired at the end of the day.

He said: 'In this industry, it's very difficult if you can't use machines. We must also know how to use them so that we can teach new workers how to use them too.'

Mr Lim, who completed Primary 6 studies, has been employed by Weishen Industrial Services for eight years.

The company was yesterday held up by the National Trades Union Congress for providing a progression path for cleaners to learn new skills and command higher pay.

Mr Lim, who works the night shift, begins work on Sentosa at 11pm and ends at 7am, with an hour-long break in between.

'I work because I love my job. Whatever job you do, you need to have passion or you won't enjoy it,' said Mr Lim, whose wife works in a factory. They have one son.

Mr Jimmy Lim, assistant general manager of Weishen, said: 'Johnny is really a role model. He should be proud of himself.'


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