Wednesday, 12 June 2013

NTUC wants cleaning firms to follow wage guide

It seeks to tie licensing of companies to wages council's pay recommendations
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 11 Jun 2013

IN YET another move to increase the salaries of low-wage workers, the labour movement is proposing that cleaning companies agree to follow national wage guidelines before they can get a licence.

All cleaning companies will be licensed from next year.

Labour chief Lim Swee Say said yesterday that tying licensing to wage guidelines will help cleaners' pay keep pace with inflation.

There are about 69,000 cleaners, and the median wage of Singaporean or permanent resident cleaners is $815.

"Our commitment to you is that your wages will continue to move up," he told about 60 cleaning staff at the launch of the National Trades Union Congress' I Care for My Cleaners campaign.



Last month, the tripartite National Wages Council (NWC) suggested a pay rise of at least $60 a month for workers earning up to $1,000 - mainly those in the cleaning, security and landscaping sectors. This was an increase from last year's NWC recommendation of at least $50 for such employees. But only three in 10 companies heeded that call last year.

Mr Lim proposed the NWC's guidelines now be made part of the NTUC's progressive wage model, which sets out a career ladder with pay standards for low-wage workers in various sectors. It has already been announced that cleaning companies must follow NTUC's progressive wage model to be granted a licence. This model sets pay at $1,000 for indoor cleaners and $1,200 for those who work outdoors.

If the NWC link is approved, cleaning firms will have to pay at least $1,000 to local workers from next year, plus any pay rise recommended by the council, if they are to get a licence.

"It does not make sense if you have put in place a ladder, and yet you do not apply the NWC guidelines onto this ladder," Mr Lim said at the campaign launch at AMK Hub. "Then workers will get stuck again, but at a different rung of this ladder."

But he added that the NTUC's plans are "subject to us convincing our tripartite partners".

Mr Milton Ng, president of the Environmental Management Association of Singapore, an association of cleaning firms, could not be reached for comment.

But the heads of associations for the security industry - another low-wage sector - were worried about similar requirements being imposed on their industry.

"There is a possibility that they will try," said Association of Certified Security Agencies president Robert Wiener.

Security Association of Singapore president T. Mogan thought his industry should not take any cue from this latest proposal. Mandatory pay rises would be a strain on companies, especially as long overtime hours amplify any rise in basic pay, he said.

Yesterday, NTUC also said that its social enterprises, including supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice, are working with service providers to give a $60 pay rise to outsourced cleaners who earn up to $1,000 a month.


More than 50 outsourced cleaners working at these organisations will get their $60 pay increase next month. If the other enterprises succeed in negotiations, another 600 outsourced cleaners will get pay rises this year. Among them is cleaner Jenny Choh, 60, who said: "Every little bit helps."






Firms show appreciation for cleaners this month
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 11 Jun 2013

BUFFET lunches, goodie bags and a trip to the Singapore Flyer are some of the ways organisations will show their appreciation for cleaners this month.

More than 100 organisations will honour over 5,000 cleaners in the labour movement's I Care For My Cleaners campaign.

The campaign kicked off yesterday at the NTUC Foodfare foodcourt in AMK Hub.

There, labour movement leaders, such as National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) secretary-general Lim Swee Say, donned aprons to serve dinner to about 60 cleaners.

Mr Lim also gave a speech in which he thanked cleaners for contributing to a beautiful Singapore, and listed the ways in which NTUC is helping to raise their wages.

Said cleaner Ng Peng Hock, 52, in Mandarin: "It was great that he (Mr Lim) was encouraging us. This is a recognition of the importance of us cleaners."

The cleaners were also serenaded in several languages and dialects by a guitarist duo, and received goodie bags and vouchers.

While NTUC has held similar events to honour cleaners in past years, this year's effort is larger and involves more organisations, said a spokesman. The campaign has its roots in the annual International Cleaners Day, celebrated worldwide on June 15.

The organisations participating this year include labour movement social enterprises, unionised companies and town councils.

For instance, NTUC's recreational arm NTUC Club is holding an award presentation and lunch for about 70 cleaners, who will also receive tickets to the Wild Wild Wet water park and a performance by international band Recycled Percussion.

CapitaLand Group will hold a buffet not just for cleaners, but also security guards, and reward good performers with vouchers for use at the group's shopping malls.

Tampines Town Council is taking cleaners to the Singapore Flyer - as well as giving them a day off on June 16.




Low-wage workers shop for more pay
Tight labour market in cleaning, security sectors drives job-hopping
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 10 Jun 2013

LOWER-PAID workers are "job- hopping" to find better prospects in a tightening labour market - causing a chain reaction that is seeing employers and service buyers pay more for their skills, industry players and union officials say.

Last month, the National Wages Council (NWC) suggested a pay rise of at least $60 a month for workers earning up to $1,000 - mainly those in the cleaning, security and landscaping sectors.

Last year's recommendation was an increase of at least $50 for such employees, which eight in 10 unionised companies gave. However, only three out of 10 non-unionised firms followed suit. But even non-union firms may find it hard to avoid raising salaries as the labour crunch continues.

One cleaning company, which declined to be named, said it is "very common for workers to job-hop now, even for a $5 or $10 increase". That firm has managed to hold on to its staff by granting pay rises and intends to follow this year's NWC guidelines too.

With firms fighting over a limited pool of workers in industries such as cleaning and security, workers have little need to stay in a poorly paying job.

"Now, if you don't give them the proper pay increase, they can just move to another place," said Mr Nasordin Mohamad Hashim, president of the Building Construction And Timber Industries Employees' Union (Batu).

One firm that has seen such job-hopping is ISS Facility Services, which pays its cleaners at least $1,000 a month. It has hired workers from other cleaning firms who sought better terms.

It must also pay enough so current workers stay, said human capital development director Faith Wong: "The pressure is also on retaining strategies."

Yet these firms, which provide outsourced services, are constrained by contracts with clients as well. "If buyers cannot accept the cost increase, they also tie our hands," said Ms Wong.

This year's NWC guidelines call on service buyers to do their part by factoring annual wage adjustments for workers into their contracts, or allowing for the contract values to be adjusted.

Mr Jimmie Ling, for one, thinks the labour crunch will encourage service buyers to see the light.

He is the chief executive officer of the Association of Management Corporations in Singapore, whose members manage condominiums. They "have started to realise that they cannot continue to maintain this kind of (low) contract rates, if they want to still have enough workers provided", he said.

In taking the lead to raise outsourcing standards, the public sector has also fuelled job-hopping.

Since April, only accredited cleaning firms adopting the progressive wage model - which sets minimum wage benchmarks - have been allowed to land government contracts. Some cleaning firms have seen their workers leave to join firms that handle government contracts, said Batu executive secretary Zainal Sapari.

Statistics suggest a lot of movement in low-wage industries.

Last year, cleaners and labourers in the cleaning and landscaping sector had one of the top average monthly resignation rates, at 5.1 per cent. Their recruitment rate of 5.3 per cent was also among the highest. It was the same for the security industry.

One happy job-hopper is Madam Lynn Lee, 51, who joined ISS Facility Services three months ago. Her previous employer paid her $900 a month with no annual bonus. Now she makes $1,000 and is due a raise and half-month bonus later this year. The benefits, work environment and colleagues at ISS are good, she said.

But for workers like herself, the basics remain key. Said Madam Lee in Mandarin: "Of course, the money should be good. That's what we're working for."






Good news in the mail for lower-income employees
By Melissa Lin, The Straits Times, 10 Jun 2013

SingPost’s $10m Inclusivity Fund

IT'S DOUBLE bonus for SingPost staff Rahmad Chik.

This year, he will get a salary increment that is double that of last year.

The 51-year-old will also go on a company-sponsored training course - and he will be awarded $300 worth of NTUC vouchers when he completes it.

The salary increments and training awards come from a $10 million SingPost Inclusivity Fund launched in February to benefit its lower-income employees. Details of these perks were announced to the staff on May 22.

Employees, particularly those earning $2,000 or less in base salary, will get higher salary increments this year compared with the average annual increment of 3.25 per cent last year, said a SingPost spokesman.

There is no increase in annual increment for management staff.

Outdoor delivery, frontline and operations staff will also receive a special one-off payment of up to $300 later this year.

More than 90 per cent of the $10 million fund has been set aside to help staff cope with higher living costs, and the remainder devoted to reward staff who upgrade themselves and the education of employees' children. It will be disbursed over five years.

More than 70 per cent of SingPost's 4,700 employees are expected to benefit from it. These are primarily employees with monthly incomes of $2,000 and below.

Mr Rahmad, who has served the company for 17 years, will get a 6 per cent increment this year, and a one-off bonus of $300 on top of his performance and 13th month bonuses.

As the Inspector of Post, his job scope includes arranging schedules for the postmen, training them and even delivering mail if the staff are short-handed.

His daughter and son-in-law, both SingPost employees, will benefit from the fund as well.

Customer service officer Razanna, 26, and her postman husband Muhammad Fadlin Abdul Rashid, 31, will be getting a 12 and 6 per cent increment respectively - which is double what they got last year.

The higher increment for Ms Razanna, who has been working at SingPost for six years, is also due to her recent promotion.

The oldest of eight children, Ms Razanna said the additional money will come in handy for the family, which has to put three more children through school. Her mother is a housewife, and two other siblings are working.

With a smile, she added: "And my dad is 51, he should go for (overseas) trips. Time for him to relax."





Raising low wage workers' pay an uphill task
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 3 Jul 2013

IN RECENT years, much effort has gone into finding ways to increase the salaries of low wage workers. But so far, success has been limited.

Last year, eight in 10 unionised companies followed a National Wages Council (NWC) recommendation on wage rises for workers earning up to $1,000.

But away from union influence, firms were less generous. Only three in 10 gave a raise of at least $50 as recommended. Four in 10 gave none at all.

This year, the NWC has suggested a built-in pay rise of at least $60 for workers earning $1,000 or less a month.

How can this be implemented?

One way is to unionise the companies.

The other way is to make NWC guidelines part of the licensing requirements for cleaning firms. NWC guidelines can also be made mandatory to other industries with licensing regimes, such as security.

A third way is being tried by NWC. It wants companies that buy the services of cleaning and security firms to be willing to pay more in their contracted prices, so the latter can raise wages of workers.

Service buyers

COMPANIES providing cleaning and other services are often reluctant to raise the pay of their low wage workers. This is because they are awarded contracts on the basis of competitive bidding.

Cleaning companies say that wages form about 80 per cent of costs. Assuming a firm's workers were already earning $1,000 a month, awarding a $60 wage rise per worker would therefore mean a 4.8 per cent rise in costs.

Employers in these sectors may not be able to absorb such pay increases, says MP Zainal Sapari, who also heads the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) unit for contract and casual workers: "Service buyers need to increase their contract sum to enable service providers to pay more to their workers."

Like other union leaders, he argues that service buyers have the upper hand when it comes to signing and renewing contracts, and need to be persuaded to pay more so the service providers downstream can raise pay for workers.

The public sector is trying to lead by example.

Government contracts are now awarded only to accredited cleaning firms with the progressive wage model. This sets out career ladders and pay benchmarks in low wage sectors. From next year, all cleaning companies need to follow these benchmarks to get licensed. But the public sector's impact is limited, as it covers only 10 per cent of the cleaning industry.

Most companies still abide by the principle of awarding service contracts to the lowest bidder. Unionists and employers say it is hard for service providers to negotiate higher rates for fear of contracts not being renewed.

"The social responsibility should be on the service buyers," says Mr Nasordin Mohamad Hashim, president of the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees' Union.

This union has branches in more than 20 cleaning firms. Many found it hard to follow last year's recommendation to raise wages by at least $50 a month.

This year, the NWC appealed to service buyers to include annual wage adjustments in their contracts, or allow for contract values to be adjusted if pay is raised.

One such buyer is NTUC Centre, which engaged Ramky Cleantech Services to provide facility maintenance services. The 46 cleaning staff there are guaranteed at least a 4 per cent or $60 pay rise this year, whichever is higher.

To make the pay rise possible, NTUC Centre has committed to pay more for this outsourced service. "We wanted to be a model service buyer," says Mr Ong Keau, director for administration of the NTUC administration and research unit.

"Of course we hope that if we take the lead, other service buyers will follow," adds Mr Ong.

Another method NTUC uses to encourage service provider companies to raise wages is to promote "best sourcing". This encourages service buyers to award contracts based not just on price, but also considerations of quality, track record and human resource practices.

From January last year till May this year, there were 43 contracts under this Best Sourcing Initiative, covering 1,542 local low wage workers.

But service buyers have their own problems.

Industry players say it is not always easy for them to grant increases. As Singapore Business Federation chief operating officer Victor Tay notes: "The whole point of the tender is locking in the price." After all, procurement officers are appraised based on how they contain costs, he adds.

Firms say that it is more common for service buyers to agree to raise contract sums upon renewal, not midway as the NWC recommends.

Even so, the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) says it will step up publicity efforts this year to nudge companies towards adopting NWC guidelines.

Some Singaporeans have suggested naming and shaming companies that don't give their workers pay rises. But SNEF executive director Koh Juan Kiat doubts naming and shaming - or even naming and praising - will work. "It's better to persuade them to institutionalise the adoption of the NWC guidelines, as this is an annual matter," he says, adding that firms generally do not welcome even good publicity of their financial practices.

Consumer pressure may not work very well either. Few consumers are likely to care how much the management of a shopping mall or office building is paying for its cleaning service - let alone boycott one that squeezes the contractor, thus forcing cleaners' wages down.

But market forces and labour shortage may soon compel service buyers to change their mindset.

The security industry, in particular, faces a "huge shortage of workers", says Association of Certified Security Agencies president Robert Wiener. Service buyers and providers are realising that if they do not pay enough, they may end up without any workers.

The latest available wage data shows that from 2010 to 2011, the median monthly gross pay of guards rose from $1,367 to $1,550. It was not just more overtime: Basic wages rose from $650 to $730.

The tight labour market puts pressure on bosses to raise wages. That pressure feeds through to service buyers. Over time, then, low wages in these sectors are likely to creep up.

But for now, getting Singapore's 70,000 cleaners and 40,000 security guards a monthly pay rise of $60 or more remains an uphill task.


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