Sunday, 27 April 2014

Licensing scheme for cleaning firms: Only 70 sign-ups

But officials believe more companies will submit applications, given time
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2014

ONLY 70 cleaning firms have applied for mandatory licences under a new regulatory scheme that kicked in earlier this month, but the authorities said they are not concerned, yet.

While the sign-ups make up less than 10 per cent of the estimated 900 registered cleaning companies here, officials believe it is still early days.

"It has only been a month since the new scheme was introduced. We need to give industry players time. More applications will come in," said National Environment Agency (NEA) deputy chief executive Khoo Seow Poh yesterday.

Senior unionist Zainal Sapari agreed. The National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general said the number of firms is likely to fall because some cannot meet the requirements.

"The number of firms may shrink in the coming few months. Some may merge or exit the business because of the new rules," said Mr Zainal, who is also MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

The companies have until Sept 1 to comply. After that, those without licences will not be allowed to operate.

A key requirement of the new scheme is that firms use a "progressive wage model" to pay their workers.

The model sets a wage ladder, where workers in low-wage jobs can earn higher pay through training.

Firms also need to send at least half of their staff for training under the new scheme.

This training criterion is a major bugbear, said employers. Many bosses complained that it is hard to fulfil, as many upgrading courses are fully booked.

They also do not have extra manpower to free up workers for training.

Mr Khoo said the NEA has heard the feedback and is working with national training body Singapore Workforce Development Agency to ensure sufficient training places.

Mr Milton Ng, president of the Environmental Management Association of Singapore, which represents cleaning firms, said companies should not use the lack of manpower as an excuse. "Firms have to find a way to get their workers trained, as it is the key way to raise wages - 50 per cent is a fair target," he said.

Under the wage ladder, Singaporeans and permanent residents working as cleaners will get at least $1,000 each month.

Now, they receive about $850.

Those who handle cleaning machines and supervisors will receive at least $1,400 and $1,600 respectively, up from the current $1,000 and $1,500.

18 cleaning firms get licences under new wage system
85% of 900 cleaning firms yet to submit applications for NEA approval
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 7 May 2014

A PIONEER batch of 18 cleaning companies received their licences to operate yesterday under a move to improve the wages of cleaners.

The firms range from cleaning giant Veolia ES Singapore Industrial, which has over 1,000 staff, to Leng Yan General Services and Supplier, which has 60 cleaners.

These firms are now bound by law to pay their workers a minimum monthly basic wage of $1,000. The salary increases to $1,600 for cleaning supervisors.

Another 110 or so firms have submitted licence applications to the National Environment Agency (NEA), but about 85 per cent of the estimated 900 cleaning firms here have yet to do so.

"Cleaning firms have another four months to meet licensing requirements," said the NEA yesterday.

Without a licence, firms will not be able to offer their services from September.

Employers caught doing so unlicensed may get a fine of up to $10,000 or a jail term of up to 12 months. Those engaging unlicensed cleaning firms may also be fined up to $10,000.

Before the licensing rule took effect from last month, the cleaning sector was largely unregulated and industry players suppressed wages to win new business. The Government amended the law in February, which in effect set a compulsory tiered wage system for different jobs in the sector.

The NEA yesterday responded to worries that the lack of training places held employers back from sending workers for training.

"There is ample training capacity," it said, pointing to the increase in monthly training places from about 900 before March to 4,500 from April.

To get a licence, at least half of a firm's cleaners must have completed a Singapore Workforce Development Agency certified training course.

"No company that wants to get its workers trained will have a barrier... We will overcome the hurdles," said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan after visiting a cleaners' training class yesterday.

But he expects the number of cleaning firms to go from about 900 now to "several hundred".

"I hope that these licensed companies will be strong, viable companies that pay particular attention to the welfare of the workers."

Industry players say the manpower crunch is a bigger problem.

"Firms need their workers to do cleaning jobs given the labour shortage," said Mr Eric Emmanuel Tan, head of Training Masters, which runs cleaning courses.

To meet the training requirement, Mr Chu Soon Chye, managing director of Leng Yan General Services and Supplier, arranged for cleaners to do their jobs in the morning to make time for training in the afternoon.

"We have to change and adapt if we want the cleaners to upgrade skills and earn higher pay," he said.

Training held at cleaners' workplace to minimise disruptions
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 7 May 2014

CLEANERS at the Singapore Swimming Club put down their mops and brooms yesterday and sat down for hours inside a club function room instead.

The 14 workers were not skiving, but learning to do their jobs better at a basic cleaning course certified by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA).

During the seven-hour course, they learnt how to use equipment like vacuum cleaners and also picked up tips on how to maintain proper postures to avoid injuries during cleaning.

Trainer Raimi Siraj, a retired SAF warrant officer, put the trainees through their paces individually and pointed out their mistakes.

Over the past few months, cleaning firms have been rushing to send workers for courses like this to meet the minimum requirement for licensing, which is to have half their workers trained.

Besides basic cleaning courses, the WDA also certifies advanced courses in areas including cleaning of toilets, escalators and kitchens.

Yesterday's lesson was held at the club so that the workers can attend class where they work.

Mr Eric Emmanuel Tan, chief operating officer of Singapore's largest cleaning trainer Training Masters, said most classes are held where the cleaners work, so as to minimise disruptions.

One trainee yesterday was Ms Nurul Natasha, 20. She earns about $1,200 as a cleaner at a McDonalds' fast-food outlet to support two siblings, aged nine and 15, and her 41-year-old mother, who is ill.

"With training, I hope to earn more, maybe $1,500, when I get promoted to supervisor," said the soft-spoken woman. "Maybe I can even become a trainer one day."

* Over 760 cleaning firms get licences ahead of new law
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 25 Aug 2014

MORE than 760 firms have received licences from the National Environment Agency (NEA), a week before a law requiring cleaning firms to be licensed kicks in next Monday.

Another 140 or so firms have submitted applications and are expected to receive licences soon.

"So far, no cleaning business has had its application rejected," an NEA spokesman told The Straits Times, promising to speed up the remaining applications.

This means the number of cleaning companies here is likely to remain at about 900, with an anticipated shake-up not taking place. The authorities had previously expected company numbers to drop to "several hundred".

Before compulsory licensing, the sector was largely unregulated and industry players suppressed wages to win new business.

This prompted the Government to amend the law in February, which in effect set a compulsory wage ladder for different jobs in the sector. Licensed firms are bound by law to pay their cleaners a minimum monthly basic wage of $1,000. The salary increases to $1,600 for cleaning supervisors.

Without a licence, firms cannot offer their services. Penalties apply to those who flout the law.

Mr Milton Ng, president of the Environmental Management Association of Singapore, which represents cleaning firms here, said the sector has been preparing for the new law. "We know it is coming and the cleaning firms know the conditions that they have to meet," said Mr Ng.

He credited the NEA for going out of its way to help firms apply: "There was one case where its officers helped a Mandarin-speaking cleaning firm boss fill in the form, which was in English."

Mr Woon Chiap Chan, country managing director of ISS Facility Services, one of the largest cleaning companies here with about 4,500 staff, said his firm got the licence about two months ago. It has already started preparing for licence renewal in a year's time.

He said the toughest part of the criteria was training - firms are required to have at least half of their workforce complete training courses certified by the Workforce Development Agency.

The labour crunch makes it hard for firms to send their cleaners for training, he added.

Compulsory wage ladders will also be implemented in the security and landscaping sectors, although the dates have not been fixed.

Said MP and National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari: "The lessons learnt in the cleaning sector will affect how wage ladders are implemented in the security and landscaping sectors."

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