Sunday 21 October 2012

New accreditation scheme for cleaning firms

By Ian Poh, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2012

THE drive to upgrade the cleaning industry has gone up a gear with the launch of an enhanced scheme to replace the Clean Mark Accreditation Scheme.

Participation is voluntary but, from April 1 next year, firms bidding for government contracts must be accredited under this scheme, which aims for cleaners to be well trained and managed, and fairly paid. The National Environment Agency (NEA), for example, now oversees six contracts with an annual value of $33.78 million for street and expressway cleaning.

Existing accredited companies will have to be recertified under the new scheme before they are eligible for government contracts from April 1.

The measures, announced yesterday by the Manpower Ministry, Workforce Development Agency and NEA, signal the Government's support for upgrading the industry, one day after a tripartite group proposed basic starting salaries for cleaners.

The new scheme, which will be rolled out next month, adds new requirements and revises some existing criteria under the current scheme.

To get certified by the NEA, firms have to set up processes and systems to meet standards covering professional regulations, operating procedures and human resources.

For example, they must have a paid-up capital of $25,000. They must also dress and equip cleaners appropriately, and satisfy certain Workforce Skills Qualifications training requirements in environmental cleaning.

Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu, who was visiting a cleaning firm yesterday, said the new scheme is an "important step" towards raising standards.

Some new criteria include the appointment of productivity managers, non-default on any orders made by the Labour Court in the year before accreditation, and payment of cleaners according to wage guidelines proposed on Thursday.

These guidelines, made by a group of officials from unions, cleaning firms and the Government, propose a new pay structure for cleaners categorised into three groups - those who clean offices; HDB estates; and hawker centres or foodcourts. Minimum basic monthly starting pay is set at $1,000.

Ms Fu said: "We would like to see companies adopting progressive employment practices, including fair wages, productivity measures, good training road maps, fair employment conditions and safety consciousness."

Firms will get help to boost staff skills. Over two years, the scheme will be complemented by $6.1 million in funding from the Workforce Development Agency to train and upgrade 7,800 cleaners for places like malls and hawker centres.

There are 910 cleaning firms here but only 61 are accredited. These are mostly big players that hire 24,000 of the 69,000 cleaners here. Of the 61, 36 have government contracts.

Said Mr Milton Ng, a director at accredited Ramky Cleantech Services: "Having an accredited structure would allow a firm to recruit higher-quality staff and improve its services."

But Mr Ng, who is also the president of the Environmental Management Association of Singapore, noted one challenge facing firms taking the upgrading route - finding time to train staff. "The alternative is to put them on full-time training and get replacements to take their usual duties," he said.

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