Monday 27 April 2015

Progressive Wage Model for landscape industry launched

Seeds of higher wages sown for landscape sector
New wage structure, linking pay to skills, will kick in from next year
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2015

SOME 3,000 local landscape workers will get a pay bump next year when it becomes compulsory for registered landscaping companies to implement a new wage structure.

The model, which links pay hikes to skills advancement, recommends a starting pay of at least $1,300 for full-time resident landscape maintenance workers, up from the current median basic wage of around $1,000 since 2009.

The new system was laid out by the Tripartite Cluster for the Landscape Industry (TCL) after a year of deliberation, and announced by the labour movement yesterday.

The National Parks Board will make adopting the new wage structure a requirement for firms applying for and renewing a listing on the Landscape Company Register from June next year.

Around 300 companies, or 90 per cent of the industry, are currently on the register.

From next June, they will need to be registered if they want to bid for government contracts.

"We hope that with this recommendation, we will be able to motivate workers and ensure that what we pay them is commensurate with their skills and productivity level," said TCL chairman Zainal Sapari at the launch at Gardens by the Bay.

Despite its key role in Singapore's garden city image, wages in the landscape industry are depressed as companies bid for contracts based on the lowest price, said Mr Zainal, who is assistant secretary-general at the National Trades Union Congress.

Under the wage ladder, there are four stages of progression from landscape worker to landscape supervisor. Each stage is tied to a set of skills and workers have to be trained under programmes such as the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualification.

Skills range from watering and weeding at the entry level, then move to operating machinery and deploying workers. Supervisors should earn at least $2,100.

Landscaping is the third low-wage industry that the Government sought to mandate higher wages in - the system for cleaners took effect last September and the ladder for security guards will take effect next September.

Although landscape companies that serve private clients will not have to implement the new wage structure, the ripple effect from the public sector should push up skills and wages for all workers.

Mr Federick Koh, the boss of Splendor Horticultural Services and Supply, said that companies with private sector contracts would have to follow suit and raise pay like those with public sector contracts - or workers would be tempted to jump ship.

Others said that they have already raised wages in line with changes in the cleaning industry, which also employs mainly older workers.

"We must keep pace because the pool of workers is similar," said Oh Heng Huat director Jasmine Lam, who added that the company would have to absorb the higher wage costs until existing contracts are completed.

Anecdotally, around seven in 10 landscape workers are over the age of 50, said Mr Zainal.

But industry players hope that by setting out a clear career progression path, the sector will draw fresh blood, like Mr Low Kee Chong, 29, who has been a landscape worker at Gardens by the Bay for six months.

"A few of my friends are interested but sceptical about the prospects in the industry," said Mr Low, who took a 70 per cent pay cut from his previous job as a community liaison officer.

"Hopefully, this model will encourage more of them to join."

Upcoming pay rise for teacher-turned-landscape worker
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2015

UNDER a long-sleeved shirt with a hat and towel on her head, landscape technician Pauline Tan is quite unrecognisable to friends strolling through the Botanic Gardens.

Many were surprised when she decided to trade air-conditioned classrooms for sun, soil and sweat two years ago. Her job as a landscape worker involved weeding and watering plants from 7am to 4.30pm.

But the 60-year-old mother of three said she is enjoying herself.

"I love the outdoor life, and I love plants. I'm not afraid of outdoor work," said Madam Tan, who had worked as a part-time childcare teacher in her first foray into the workforce after more than 20 years as a housewife.

She made the switch to landscaping because she wanted to try something new and nature-related. Six months into the job, she was promoted to landscape technician after getting certified in operating machinery, and now earns around $1,430 a month.

When the new wage structure for landscape maintenance workers is implemented next year, she stands to get a pay raise of $70 as the minimum basic pay for landscape technicians is $1,500.

"Any extra I can get, I can use to gather my family and go for a nice meal or trip, to spend more time together," said Madam Tan. Her husband and children are all working.

If she continues to upgrade her skills and take on more advanced duties, she can progress to become an assistant landscape supervisor with a pay of at least $1,700, and then a supervisor, earning at least $2,100.

For now, she said she is quite happy to do gardening.

"I want to work as long as I can," she said. "I find it very therapeutic."

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